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The arts go outdoors, thanks to the Grand and Delaware Theatre Company

Shows are heading outside because nobody knows when inside performances can safely resume.

Limits on indoor gatherings imposed to flatten the coronavirus curve have inspired two prominent Wilmington arts institutions to start programming outdoors.

On Friday, July 3, The Grand hosts its first Concerts by Car at the parking lot of Frawley Stadium on the Wilmington Riverfront. One Wednesday, Delaware Theatre Company hosts its first Front & Center show from the front steps of its Wilmington Riverfront building. Both are sold out.

“All this is brand new. We’re keeping it simple to start,” said Mark Fields, executive director of the Grand. That institution programs the Grand, the baby Grand and the Playhouse on Rodney Square. “We hope that everyone attending comes in that spirit.”

“We feel we have a duty to the community and to our patrons to offer entertainment,” said Matt Silva, DTC’s managing director, adding that its new outdoor events will all be free. 

The two organizations follow the lead of the OperaDelaware, which has been offering open-air performances it calls Drive-Through Arias, from its studios in Wilmington, and also from ChristianaCare’s Christiana and Wilmington hospitals.

And while institutions normally known for performing indoors are yielding to the call of the great outdoors, programs that once were open-air summer staples, such as Delaware Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Rockwood Park and Arden’s Shakespeare production decided to postpone shows until next year.

Fields said nobody knows know performing arts will be able to start shows inside, and that it’s difficult to justify costs when capacity is so dramatically limited.

“On top of that, a lot of artists are not willing to resume touring,” Silva said. No plays are planned at DTC for the rest of 2020. 

For its Wednesday show, the theatre company has figured out how to handle 134 people in 32 two-person spots and 17 four-person spots socially distanced on its parking lot. The first show -– featuring Jonathan Mousset of “Jersey Boys” as Frankie Valli, accompanied by Vince di Mura -– is sold out. The rest -– hopefully every two weeks –- have not yet been finalized, he said. 

Jonathan Mousset of “Jersey Boys” will perform Wednesday at Delaware Theatre Company.
Jonathan Mousset of “Jersey Boys” will perform Wednesday at Delaware Theatre Company.

Silva is working on readings of new plays and a cabaret act from performer familiar to DTC audiences, but he said that union contracts rule out theater performances for Front & Center. 

The Grand’s first Concerts by Car features The Rock Orchestra performing “The Best of the Beatles.” The local favorites have twice performed all 215 Beatles songs in weeklong gigs at the Wilmington Drama League. This concert sold out at $25 per person.

Fields hope the next Concerts by Car could be announced early next week. He also hopes to arrange weekend concerts every week or so as long as the weather is nice. To avoid scheduling conflicts, the DTC is planning weeknight events.

Social distancing measures include parking passenger vehicles 6 to 8 feet apart and encouraging patrons to stay in their vehicles and listen on their FM radios. There will be no concessions and no public restrooms. Events will be be under 90 minutes and performed without intermission, he said.

Representatives from the Grand will have multiple questions in mind when they attend Friday’s concert. How’s the sound? How are the sight lines? How’s the traffic in and out? Can they increase capacity? And, most importantly, how do audience members react? 

Concerts by Car are sponsored by New Castle County, PNC Arts Alive and the city of Wilmington, and the county’s support means that the Grand is also looking at other outdoor venues, he said. 

“Music is the easiest to start with, but we’re also open to theater or dance and to provide opportunities to our colleague arts organizations,” he said. “If we can perfect the model of outdoor concerts, we might be able to attract national acts. Artists want to cover their costs, but they also need to feed their soul.”

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