A Message of Hope from Elizabeth – February 24, 2021
The snow is still on the ground, but the days are longer and the slant of afternoon sunlight carries an unmistakable glow, a harbinger of spring. Though the COVID counts have just surpassed the heartbreaking toll of 500,000 souls lost, those jagged reporting lines of cases and deaths finally seem to be reliably pointing downward and more and more of our friends and family members are rolling up their sleeves to receive the much-awaited vaccine. Though it remains delicate and fragile, a thread of hope finally seems to be weaving itself into our days and psyches. At SPAC, we continue to prepare for the annual “reawakening,” this time laden with so much anticipation and joy at the thought of opening our doors and welcoming you back home.
Last year, thanks to our new Pines@SPAC facility, we had more than 200 events on our campus – including a total of 10,000 visitors, 50 people at a time, from July to December. During that time, our operations and facilities team worked according to very strict COVID protocols and created a blueprint for events that kept our guests and staff safe and healthy.
As we move into the 2021 season, our number one priority is creating a safe environment for everyone – audience members, staff and performers. We do not yet know when we will be allowed to open – nor, more importantly, at what capacity. Will we be allowed to use the amphitheater? If so, for 500 people, 1,500? Or some other number? What we can tell you is that all winter our operations team has been creating various scenarios so that whatever the number ends up being, we will be ready to execute a plan with strictly enforced guidelines to guarantee your safety – and to bring our beloved resident companies back to their Saratoga home.
When thinking about SPAC and re-opening, most people think about the audience. But the health of artists and crew is equally important. We have to make certain that the backstage, dressing rooms, rehearsal spaces and stage are all safe.
Needless to say, our resident partners, New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, have been wrestling with their own COVID challenges over the past year. Many questions remain about what, exactly, their SPAC seasons will look like. Throughout the year, we have been in on-going conversations and collaboration with them to make certain that we find a way for them to be in Saratoga this summer, one way or another. But there are many questions that we cannot yet answer. For instance: how many musicians, if any, might be able to safely sit in the orchestra pit during NYCB’s performances? Will dancers be able to partner widely? How will they rehearse? And what repertoire can be made ready to perform in Saratoga after 18 months of not dancing? How many Philadelphia Orchestra members will fit onto the amphitheater stage – and how might that limit or change repertoire? Should we contemplate not using the acoustical shell in order to make more room for musicians? And, if so, how might that affect the sound and the overall enjoyment of the performances? How many audience members will come back to live performance this summer? What will the financial impact of substantially reduced capacity mean for us? These are just a handful of a myriad of questions confronting us day in and day out.
These are the questions and challenges that we share with all outdoor venues. Therefore, at the beginning of this year, we formed a coalition of NY State not-for-profit outdoor venues and were joined by our esteemed colleagues from The Public Theatre, Lincoln Center, City Parks Foundation, Classical Theatre of Harlem, The Chautauqua Institution and the Caramoor Center for the Arts. Not only has this group been sharing critical information and ideas, it also has been tirelessly working together with the Governor’s Office and state and local elected officials to create timelines and guidelines that will permit all of us to re-open this summer, allowing us to serve our communities, companies and constituents in the best possible way.
The last 12 months have been some of the hardest most of us have ever had to live through. For cultural organizations, we were among the first to close and will be the last to re-open, and the uncertainties and challenges have been formidable. At the same time, we have all seen our SPAC family rise up in a beautiful display of support and generosity – and our staff over the last 12 months has shown an astonishing and inspiring level of resolve, creativity and resilience.
We know how much you have missed gathering on our grounds for extraordinary encounters with beauty. And we have profoundly missed sharing those moments with you.
President & CEO