The Opera House in the time of COVID-19

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 7:00am

Story Location:
86 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor  Maine  04538
United States

Stage lights will be coming up again at the Opera House of Boothbay Harbor the night of July 3 when The Boneheads return to the peninsula’s musical arts center for a 7:30 show. It will be the first show since Ireland’s Altan played the House on Feb. 29, and the first since COVID-19 took center stage in all of our lives.

“This is not business as usual, this is business as unusual,” said Executive Director Cathy Sherrill. “There’s some trepidation, but I’m really excited. We’re going to open the doors! And we can have 50 people! What would have been considered paltry is now a bounty.”

When Gov. Janet Mills declared a state of civil emergency and issued the Stay Healthy At Home executive order in March, shows booked for late May and in early June held on. But the governor extended the state of civil emergency through June 11, and was maintaining the 14-day quarantine for people arriving in Maine, and some performers canceled due to President Trump’s travel ban keeping visitors from other countries out of the U.S.

Sherrill books several bands from the U.K. Those shows were a definite no-go in 2020.

Not all of the performers canceled. Many have rescheduled dates in 2021 – including Gaelic Storm, the Dave Bromberg Quartet, Tommy Emmanuel, Jim Brickman, Matt Nakoa, and the Ellis Paul-Seth Glier-Vince Gilbert show, and Tom Rush. “There’s so much involved in getting a schedule together and it’s hard to give up. Other performers held onto hope that by the time we get out to July we’ll be on the other side of this,” Sherrill said. “But we just don’t know.”

The 14-day quarantine proved a stumbling block; the performers scheduled did not live in Maine, nor did they have summer homes here.

Sherrill said more shows, depending on if fall brings another wave of the coronavirus, may end up hopscotching to 2022. Observing all current state guidelines, the Opera House will present Maine musicians throughout the summer, “to do what they were born to do.”

All of the performers have played the Opera House at one time or another over the 15 years Sherrill has been executive director. So they know social distancing isn’t an issue onstage. “I think that people want to get together. And we’re doing it within the state guidelines. We’ve been disinfecting. The Opera House has never been cleaner in all its 125 years!”

“We’re paying the musicians, but not what they’re worth. And our sound guy, and that’s it. We are not advertising too far afield this year; we want to give locals the opportunity to come out. Tickets for The Boneheads show are selling pretty quickly – and there are only 50.”

Here’s who’s playing to date: The Boneheads, July 3; Seth Warner, July 10; Kevin Kiley and Devin Dukes, July 25; Murky Water Band, July 30; Golden Oak Bluegrass, Aug. 1; Sean Mencher, rockabilly, Aug 8; and Don Campbell Band/Dan Fogelberg Tribute, Aug. 29.

Masks will be worn moving around the Opera House until ticket holders are seated at their tables – set six feet apart, and set for two. The plan is to have table drink service before the music starts to help maintain the six-foot requirement. During the evening, people can go to the downstairs bar, but will have to put their masks back on and observe the social distancing waiting to be served.

Opera House Technical Director Kevin Kiley has hung the Japanese lanterns from the ceiling to make the space festive – like a summer garden party.

Sherrill said the support from the community has been quite moving. Some people have sent notes, and some call just to let her know they are so happy the Opera House is opening back up — including people who weren’t sure if they felt comfortable coming to a show.

“People were coming up to me, especially in March and April and they’d say, ‘Don’t worry Cathy this town won’t let the Opera House fail. It’s the beauty of community’ … and I think in March I probably looked like someone on the brink of … something,” she added, chuckling.

Sherrill remains hopeful. Many members renewed their memberships in response to the annual appeal. Several people who had tickets for canceled shows donated the ticket price to the venue.

“People have been as generous as they can be. It takes a lot to operate this place. In the long term, if we can get through it I think the rebound … people will come out, the work will come back … there’s no magic answer.”