MILWAUKEE — The Marcus Performing Arts Center is bringing back live performances for the first time in more than a year.
The test case will be small audiences in the small theaters initially. The Marcus Center has big plans for outdoor performances and programming through the summer and is banking on a return to full house shows with the launch of the Broadway season in fall.
“As soon as I walked in here, I was like ‘oh, it’s on!’”
Opera singer Steve Valenzuela is among the first performers to take the stage inside the Marcus Center since the pandemic shut things down last spring. The Florentine Opera has two limited capacity shows inside the Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall this month.
“I am extremely excited,” Valenzuela continued. “There’s nothing like creating art, but then there’s nothing like feeling that synergy with the audience.”
Maggey Oplinger, Florentine’s General Director, and CEO, assures audiences there will be strict COVID protocols in place.
“It goes down to COVID coordinators backstage to make sure everyone backstage is conforming to those protocols we’ve agreed to.”
Audience members will not be the only ones socially distanced from each other, either. Because the singers will be performing without masks, there will be a 25-foot buffer zone between them and the closest available seats.
“It means blocking off seats for us,” Oplinger explained, "Which is not ideal, but we want our audience. We want them back.”
President & CEO of the Marcus Center, Kendra Whitlock Ingram, took over running the venue just as COVID was shutting it down.
“I am beside myself excited to be welcoming people back,” she shared.
The first audiences will be at 25 percent capacity, with touchless ticketing, no concessions, no intermissions.
“We’re going to be keeping distance from people as they enter the facility… really keeping space and reducing contact will be the biggest change for audiences coming in,” Whitlock Ingram explained.
The Marcus Center also invested in a new HVAC system that filters and completely replace the air throughout the building, every 20 minutes.
While the Milwaukee Ballet is set to return to the Marcus Center as well in June, much of the summer programming will be outside. Extensive work continues on the south grounds.
“Renovating the space outside. Removing the dying tree growth and the inoperable fountain and creating this great open space that now is adjacent to our outdoor amphitheater,” Whitlock Ingram said is a critical part of the return to audiences. “We plan to activate that space, all summer long. Concerts. Events. Educational programming. It's going to be the place to be in the summer.”
Limited capacity is not long-term sustainable. The plan is to ramp up as the COVID situation allows, with the goal of having full audiences back inside the renovated Uihlein Hall this fall. "Hamilton" kicks off the Broadway season at the Marcus in October.
“We keep telling people, and this is really key herd immunity. Vaccinations. Getting back to large assembly. This is key to us bringing shows like Hamilton back,” Whitlock Ingram explained. “We are strongly encouraging the public, the artists, our staff, to get vaccinated. Because this is a direct correlation between us getting back to doing these big shows. We need to have full capacity to bring these shows to Milwaukee. In order to have full capacity, we have to have herd immunity. We have to have people vaccinated.”
For now, The Florentine Opera’s Valenzuela is just happy to be back on stage, and in front of a live theater audience of any size.
“Being in front of an audience, whatever it is, you can feel that connection. You can feel that type of energy. Just to just have that, when you walk out on stage that it's going to be what it's going to be, that's the adrenaline when you walk out on stage.”
For a full interview with Florentine’s General Director and CEO:
For ticket information to The Florentine Opera’s upcoming shows, click here.
For information on the Marcus Performing Arts Center and tickets to future performances including the Broadway season, click here.