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Organizations look for safe ways for people to enjoy the arts outdoors

New London — In the COVID-19 era, singers at outdoor concerts could project their voices away from the audience, or wear face shields.

Actors could stand far apart from the front row, while attendees who self-identify as being at higher risk for COVID-19 are seated farther away on the periphery.

Markings could show people where to stay at least 6 feet apart from other people, and all tickets are purchased online to minimize contact.

Those were some of the ideas shared as Dr. Sten Vermund, the dean of the Yale School of Public Health, visited sites in New London on Monday to give advice on how to safely hold cultural events with the heads of the Flock Theatre and the Shoreline Arts Alliance.

The group toured the parking lot of the Thames Club, City Pier, and the Connecticut College arboretum.

Vermund said Connecticut’s return to the “new normal,” includes not only reopening schools and getting people back to work safely, but also the arts, a vibrant part of people’s lives and enjoyment. He said outdoor venues are absolutely the right way to approach the arts during this time.

The state has released guidelines for outdoor events, which include social distancing and limited capacity.

Vermund listed the “big five” in holding events in a safer manner: physical distancing, hand and face hygiene, mask wearing, being outdoors, and limiting the size of crowds.

Shoreline Arts Alliance is coordinating a task force, called Reopening CT Arts Venues: Science-Based Safety, to ensure that organizations have all the tools they need to create a healthy environment for actors, staff, and patrons, said Eric Dillner, CEO of Shoreline Arts Alliance and task force chairman.

He said the organizations are looking for creative ways to give people an opportunity to safely experience art.

While being filmed, Vermund is visiting sites and answering public health questions that will help consumers feel confident about coming to outdoor cultural venues, Dillner said. The video will then be shared through the Shoreline Arts Alliance’s website and Facebook page.

The group met New London Mayor Michael Passero by the city’s waterfront, where Vermund provided ideas such as marking areas for 6 feet of social distancing and taking advantage of the large space available, and spacing people apart in a “cross hatch” seating pattern on the bleachers.

Passero said that if concerts are held, people would need to be more conscious about distancing.

Derron Wood, executive artistic director of Flock Theatre, suggested having smaller groups of 25 rotate through to hear performances staged in different parts of the waterfront.

Wood said that Flock Theatre has shifted three major performances online, but is looking in the future at ideas such as outdoor performances with shadow projections off buildings, puppetry, and plays with a small number of actors. He said it will be important to be flexible enough to shut down immediately, if the state suddenly experiences an outbreak.

He said he thinks everyone’s learning a lesson from what happened in Texas and Florida, but at the same time there are options for safely enjoying the arts, such as outdoor performances where people bring their own picnics or food trucks are spread out over a larger distance.

He said the parking lot, arboretum, and waterfront are three examples of outdoor spaces in New London that could serve as a model for other communities also looking for outdoor venues.


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