Just as a sense of normalcy had returned to the local performing arts community, the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida was forced to cancel their holiday concert at the Hard Rock Live due to concerns about the rapidly spreading COVID-19 Omicron variant.
According to Executive Director Mark Kent, the chorus had performed the first concert of the weekend on Friday, Dec. 17 to a sold-out audience at the Sunshine Cathedral, but received notice that several members of the chorus had received positive COVID-19 test results on Sunday morning. All were reportedly fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.
The Sunday performance featuring Deborah Cox was canceled at approximately 1 p.m., just hours before doors were set to open at the Hollywood venue located in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. More than 1,300 tickets had been sold.
“The guys in the chorus have a tremendous commitment to the community and a tremendous commitment to each other,” Kent explained, noting that the Jingle Ball concert at Florida Live Arena on Dec. 19 was also canceled. “We all have to err on the side of caution. We can’t let the virus spread any more than it has, as tough of a decision as it was.”
While the decision left audiences and the musicians themselves disappointed, chorus officials are just now calculating the resulting costs since the holiday concert is one of the biggest sources of revenue for the nonprofit organization.
“We keep pushing forward because we’re an organization with a mission. If we let setbacks like this deter us from what we are doing, we run the risk of withering or folding up,” Kent added. “Our plan is to look at protocols between now and the return to rehearsals.”
Other arts organizations responded to the news with a mix of caution and confidence. As local arts venues began to reopen, most already enacted fairly strict masking requirements for audiences and testing schedules for performers.
The arrival of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant and rising breakthrough cases affecting fully vaccinated people has led to concern.
Months before the latest wave, local performing arts centers, including the Arsht Center in Miami and the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, went to electronic ticketing and required temperature checks and proof of a negative COVID test, or alternative proof of vaccination, to enter their facilities.
The Arsht Center provided a statement to SFGN expressing its commitment to the scientifically driven protocols already in place, but added, “Any changes to entry policy or performance schedule will be sent directly to ticket holders and updated regularly” at the center’s website.
Jacqueline Lorber, president of the South Florida Symphony, noted the orchestra follows similar protocols adopted by the Broward Center and at its main concert venue, The Parker in Fort Lauderdale. More than 1,200 people attended the symphony’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” on Dec. 1.
She praised the level of caution exercised by the Broward Center and the venues the center manages: “Excellent protocols are in place and those are the things to have in place for everyone to be comfortable. It’s the most that you can do, plus we’re masked,” referring to masks worn by audiences and the musicians during rehearsals and performances.
Theater producer Ronnie Larsen was one of the first to resume live performances following the March 2020 shutdown, offering plays, readings and cabaret performances at The Foundry in Wilton Manors since July 2020.
His comedy, “Sauna,” which has played in two runs over the past several months has been the highest-grossing show ever. He tests his cast and when they receive positive results, they are replaced, but he has no intentions of making immediate changes with the rise of Omicron.
“We’re not going to shut down,” he said. “It really feels in my heart that this is a time for a segment of us to put our foot down and say we’re going forward. It’s also time for all those people who haven’t been vaccinated to get their [expletive] shots!”
At Island City Stage next door, Managing Director Martin Childers agreed, “This is something we’re going to have to live with. It’s not going away.”
His company’s next production, “Armature,” doesn’t open until Jan. 27 and he said that current safety protocols are likely to remain unchanged. Childers did point out that when the rare patron arrives and refuses to wear a mask at performance, other audience members were quick to call them out.
While temporary and longer-term closings have become commonplace on Broadway — even though audiences are mandated to present proof of vaccination and performers are tested regularly — local companies have more flexibility. The state of Florida also prohibits all businesses from requiring vaccination or facing expensive fines.
Several local organizations are watching Actors Equity, the professional actors’ union, which demands strict COVID practices, training and the presence of an onsite COVID officer in houses where their members appear. While Broadway producers are pledging to stay open, if the union refuses, that could affect not only Broadway, but also some local companies using Equity actors and upcoming touring shows at the performing arts centers.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens with omicron now,” said one South Florida producer who asked to comment anonymously. “We’ve been taking all sorts of precautions, but until everyone is vaccinated, I’m afraid we’re never going to get ahead of COVID.”