DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER
Even though it may seem like the worst days of the pandemic are in the past, of the United States population, only 45.4% of the country is fully vaccinated, according to NPR. And according to the county’s Department of Health, Chautauqua County is only 41% fully vaccinated.
With this information, Chautauqua Theater Company and Chautauqua Opera Company had to plan a season that both honors how far the country has come since vaccinations began to be administered, while also realizing that there is still far to go before masks are not mandated everywhere.
Even though this season is still different than a typical one, Carol Rausch, music administrator and chorus master for Chautauqua Opera, said the mere presence of people on the grounds fosters positive energy.
“There’s just a special draw about being physically here, even if the activities are a little bit curtailed and not as full gung-ho as the normal summer,” Rausch said. “Just being here is huge. It’s really huge.”
In putting together its season, Chautauqua Opera had different regulations to follow on the local, state and federal level. The American Guild of Musical Artists, the vocalists’ union, has specific protocols about how things may be done this season.
“It’s such a tricky balancing act,” Rausch said. “You’re checking out, what are we hearing from the CDC? What are our New York State, and local county and city mandates?”
When a vocalist performs, respiratory droplets are spread throughout the air, which can be potentially dangerous in the age of a pandemic. Chautauqua Opera is a fully vaccinated company, but is operating in a county that has less than half of its population vaccinated.
“We’re very fortunate to be in a part of the country that has very low rates of infection,” said Steven Osgood, the general and artistic director of Chautauqua Opera. “Singers, musicians, everybody who on March 12, 2020, saw the industry shut down are very cautious about coming back. Everybody’s aware that loud singing (spreads) this virus. There’s just no room for mistakes.”
This year, Chautauqua Opera only has five Young Artists participating in the program: Michael Colman, Jared V. Esguerra, Yazid Gray, Kelly Guerra and Chasiti Lashay. Chautauqua Opera did not hold auditions in major cities across the country like it usually does, but stuck to a pool of singers already involved with the program.
Chautauqua Opera opened its season with the annual Sing-In last Thursday.
In years past, the Young Artists sang only one aria at the Opera Sing-In. This year, each Young Artist got to sing two.
Chautauqua Theater Company also had to be flexible in planning its season due to the day-to-day change in regulations. Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy said the stress of planning a season of shows was felt across theater companies across the nation.
“I think every single performing arts organization in tandem was dealing with what we dealt with at Chautauqua, which was endless plans on paper that never came to life,” Corporandy said. “And it was heartbreaking. I think after six or seven months of that, it started to really wear on our souls to make new budgets, choose new shows, and new plays, all of it. We were just constantly reinventing the wheel, and then we’d sit in that space for three to four weeks, and then the rules would change.”
As much as constantly rescheduling and replanning was a tedious task, Corporandy is grateful to Chautauqua Institution for its support and guidance throughout the process.
“I think Chautauqua gave us great leadership about the vision, about what they were trying to do for the region, for the county and for their community,” Corporandy said. “They really stepped forward and said, ‘This is where we’re going, come with us, and we’re going to give you the support.’ So we bought into that, we took the ride, but what you’re going to see on stage this summer, came out of probably 20 different iterations on what it could have been.”
One aspect that needed to be finalized was the venue that CTC and Chautauqua Opera could perform in while also meeting AGMA and Actors Equity Association’s COVID-19 safety regulations.
Director of Production Joseph Futral has over 30 years of experience in the field of producing theater, opera, dance and festivals. It is his first year in the role at the Institution.
The idea for the Performance Pavilion on Pratt came back in January after potential indoor venues like Bratton Theater and Norton Hall could not meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“I had a lot of conversations with (CTC and Chautauqua Opera) and threw sketches around and put out ideas,” Futral said. “But at the end of the day, it really was a collaboration on all levels.”
The Performance Pavilion came from Chattanooga Tent & Event Solutions, based in Tennessee, and only took two days to construct. The audience capacity for the pavilion was originally 180 people, but as New York COVID-19 regulations loosened, it was changed to 316 with a vaccinated and an unvaccinated section.
As for what is to happen in cases of inclement weather, those conversations are still ongoing. Futral knew the risk of an outdoor venue, but he believes there is a higher power on their side.
“For some reason, God seems to love art,” he said. “The rain should stop.”