Art Notes: COVID catching up with Upper Valley arts venues

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2022 8:41:58 AM
Modified: 1/13/2022 8:41:07 AM

Since 2014, Northern Stage has dedicated a piece of January to developing new plays in a series of readings called “New Works Now.”

Thanks to the current spike in coronavirus cases, this year’s installment will have to be more of a “New Works Later.”

The White River Junction theater company had to postpone the festival, which was slated to start Saturday, until summer.

For the festival, “we bring a lot of artists from outside the area all at the same time,” Irene Green, Northern Stage’s managing director, said Wednesday. That includes actors, playwrights and directors from New York and beyond.

“Each person right now increases the COVID risk,” Green said. That risk made it seem more and more likely that a positive test would derail the festival, Green said, so the company decided to put it off.

After a summer and fall of renewed performances at area venues, winter has become a bit of a stumbling block. Some venues scheduled few dates for January and February, while others have had to cancel shows. All are keeping an eye on case counts and the public’s appetite for risk.

“At this point, we are staying the course with our calendar,” Joe Clifford, executive director of Lebanon Opera House, said Wednesday. But ticket sales for upcoming shows “are not great,” he said.

The next four shows, starting with Recycled Percussion on Jan. 22 and ending with North Country Community Theater’s teen musical on Feb. 25, are all renting the space, Clifford said. He’s working with the people behind those events to make sure they all have common COVID-19 protocols, he said.

The opera house is likely to make an announcement to patrons Thursday updating its rules. It already requires masks and either vaccination or a recent negative test, but it needs to tighten those policies a bit, particularly around children under 5, who cannot yet be vaccinated, and around granting refunds.

“It’s exhausting,” Clifford said about keeping up with the changing nature of the pandemic. The opera house has tried to be inclusive, and for a while, it was working fine.

“Now omicron is proving us wrong,” he said. “We’re putting a lot of trust in our audience.”

Sometimes, a canceled date isn’t about the audience. At ArtisTree Community Arts Center, in South Pomfret, the Vermont Mandolin Trio called off a Jan. 7 performance, Wendy Seiple, the arts center’s events and marketing coordinator, said Wednesday.

Other upcoming shows remain on the books. I Do, I Do, a musical about marriage performed by the New York-based married couple Lyn Philistine and Christopher Sutton, opens Feb. 10.

“We kind of made a firm decision last week that we’re just going to go ahead,” Seiple said. “We’re committed to putting it on.”

Even so, audiences are a bit sparser, and attendees understand they’re taking a calculated risk, she said.

A few people have called to say they can’t make it to events or classes because a relative has fallen ill, and a few instructors have canceled classes. The ceramics studio, which fills up quickest when class registration opens, hasn’t been full lately.

“We’re trying to keep things as open and normal as possible, given how weird everything is,” Seiple said.

Northern Stage also has a show opening in February. A production of Heisenberg, also a two-person show, starts previews Feb. 16.

“We’re hoping that by mid-February, things will be a little better than they are now,” Green said.

The company had good luck with its production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which ended Jan. 2. None of the show’s performers, all of them vaccinated Upper Valley students over age 12, tested positive, Green said.

“We’re hopeful that we can produce the rest of our season as slated and then move outdoors for the summer,” she said.

Ah, the outdoors, where COVID-19 risk is minimal. Clifford has already set a date in August for Lebanon Opera House’s second annual Nexus Festival, after the first was a major success last summer.

“We’re a field that’s eternally optimistic,” he said. “Necessarily, we have to plan ahead. ... I’m looking toward warmer times and being outdoors.”

For those who can’t wait that long, ArtisTree is sponsoring a snow sculpting contest at Suicide Six, the nearby ski area, this weekend.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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