Intermission’s about over.
With an appearance by comedian Brian Regan leading the way Sept. 26, The Grand Opera House on Tuesday announced the shows they’ve already booked for their indoor 2021-22 season, with the promise of more to be added.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time,” said executive director Mark Fields. “This is really just the first wave.”
With Gov. John Carney announcing that he will lift his COVID-19 emergency order July 13, when it was set to run out, Fields said the facility is raring to go after having doors to its three stages shut for 467 days by the pandemic. Clever posters outside the Market Street theater cheekily proclaimed they would be right back after a brief intermission.
“This is what we consider a start on next season, but we didn’t want to wait any longer before we provided things for people to start looking forward to,” Fields said.
Unlike most years when the majority of the next year’s season is announced in the spring, “I expect that one of the changes that we will see coming out of the pandemic is, is that we’ll be announcing more shows as we go along than perhaps we have in the past.”
Its season usually has about 70 shows, with most announced early. Tuesday’s announcement offers about half that.
In addition to bringing in musical and variety shows, this announcement says its cast-iron front building’s 150th birthday on Dec. 22, 2021 will be celebrated over three months. The Grand also will bring back its popular Grand Gala and Broadway shows to the Playhouse on Rodney Square, but those announcements will come later.
Comedy acts on the Grand schedule will include comedians Brian Regan and Lewis Black, internet sensation Vic DiBitetto, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles of “Whose Line is It Anyway?” as well as TV’s Jane Lynch of “Glee” and “Criminal Minds” with Kate Flannery of “The Office” in a Christmas special.
Music will include the return of Straight No Chaser, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, The Temptations and singer Storm Large, who often appears with Pink Martini and now is doing well on “America’s Got Talent.”
By the time The Grand opens for its first currently scheduled performance, it will have been 563 days since an audience sat in one of their theaters.
But the buildings weren’t empty. A skeleton staff continued to clean and maintain the building and its facilities. The Copeland Auditorium stage was rented by several orchestras, including the Philly Pops and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra to record on. And the Grand itself produced concerts in the parking lot of Frawley Stadium, offered drive-in movies at Bellevue State Park and co-sponsored the Winter in Wilmington Drive-Thru Light Show on Wilmington’s Riverfront.
Some of those extras may remain, Fields said.
“There’s nothing that we’ve decided that we won’t do again,” he said. “Part of the decision on that will be whether there’s an ongoing interest. But I think it’s very likely that we will do outdoor performances again next summer. There appears to be an appetite for those.”
Earlier in the spring, Fields and other arts organization leaders said that they were unsure about reopening indoor shows because they didn’t know how the average theatergoer would react. In recent weeks, Fields said, the concern seems to have lessened.
Even so, a lot of what and who they booked was based on who was ready to be back on stage, not just personally, but also with bands and supporting personnel. He expects many of the artists to require local people working with them to wear masks. And one thing you won’t see in the list of shows are large choral groups, because there’s still some concern about virus spread in a large group of people singing.
Fields had said last year when the Grand was closed and employees were laid off that the organization would need $5 million to reopen. Much of that is to replenish the endowments that management has been drawing down to keep things running and return them to the financial condition they were in March of 2020. The endowments usually help fund the theater’s annual operating expenses, not pay for everything.
“We haven’t gotten all the way there. We’re making great progress,” Fields said. The organization has $2 million in hand, including $500,000 in Delaware COVID-19 relief funding with federal money.
The Grand is waiting to hear from the federal Shuttered Venues program. If it is funded, “that will bring us much, much closer to our goal.”
Fields pointed out in that in the recession of 2008-9, when arts groups were struggling, they were all essentially told that they were on their own. Arts groups spent the last decade-plus telling their story and talking about what they offer a community while lobbying for a greater share of the government pie. In the COVID crisis, many groups stepped in to help financially in Delaware.
“If there’s a silver lining in this pandemic — and I’m not sure that there is — it’s the fact that I think virtually everybody in positions of power or authority appreciate now the importance of the arts to the overall ecosystem of a community,” Fields said. “And that’s not just the economic impact of the arts but also on quality of life and education.”
When this crisis occurred, shutting down performances and therefore natural links to donations and other support, “from every level of government, from every corporation what we heard almost unanimously is we understand the arts are important, and we will do what we can to help.”
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki hailed the return of indoor shows at The Grand.
“When I look for sure signs that we are ready to return to a more normal and more enjoyable routine, I look no further than The Grand,” he said in the press release announcing the season. “Our City’s premier performance center was an early victim of COVID’s devastating effects, so it is with joy that I applaud the decision to re-open the Grand stage for all to enjoy.”
The Grand will have a ticket presale June 23 through July 5 for subscribers, donors and current audience members to purchase tickets before the general public. Tickets can be purchased online at TheGrandWilmington.org, which they say is the best way to guarantee the best seats, or by calling 302-652-5577.
The theater has upgraded its ticketing software since March of 2020 and it will include a print-at-home option by fall. There also will be eight new digital kiosk displays welcoming theatergoers.
Tickets to the general public will go on sale July 6 at 10 a.m., except for Straight No Chaser, December ’63 and “HYPROV.” Purchasing three shows saves the buyer 10% per ticket and purchasing six shows saves 20% per ticket, and comes with free parking vouchers and a dining discount card.
Ticket prices won’t be raised just to raise more cash, Fields said.
“We have not made any kind of across the board adjustment on ticket prices,” he said. “We have always based our pricing on what we think the market will bear. And sometimes that’s why we don’t present some artists, because they want more money than we think the market can support.”
Here’s the line-up:
Oct. 21, 2021 – Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (Copeland Hall)
Oct. 23, 2021 – Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (Copeland Hall)
Oct. 30, 2021 – The Temptations (Copeland Hall)
Nov. 6, 2021 – The Rock Orchestra performs Elton John (Copeland Hall)
Nov. 13, 2021 – Kris Allen (the baby grand)
Nov. 18, 2021 – Storm Large (the baby grand)
Nov. 19, 2021 – ABBA MANIA! (Copeland Hall)
Dec. 10, 2021 – December ’63 (Playhouse on Rodney Square) – tickets on sale at a later date
Dec. 11, 2021 – Andy McKee (the baby grand)
Dec. 17, 2021 – Wizards of Winter (Copeland Hall)
Jan. 16, 2022 – DRUMLINE LIVE! (Copeland Hall)
Feb. 4, 2022 – Seldom Scene (the baby grand)
Feb. 12, 2022 – The Rock Orchestra performs Tom Petty (the baby grand)
Feb. 18, 2022 – Gaelic Storm (Copeland Hall)
March 4, 2022 – The Red Hot Chili Pipers (Copeland Hall)
March 5, 2022 – The Honey Dewdrops (the baby grand)
March 6, 2022 – Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy (Copeland Hall)
March 13, 2022 – Tom Rush (the baby grand)
March 19, 2022 – Deadgrass (the baby grand)
March 25, 2022 – The Tannahill Weavers (the baby grand)
April 1, 2022 – Straight No Chaser (Copeland Hall) – tickets on sale at a later date
April 15, 2022 – One Night in Memphis (Copeland Hall)
April 22, 2022 – Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas (the baby grand)
April 24, 2022 – One Night of Queen (Copeland Hall)
May 7, 2022 – The Rock Orchestra performs Genesis (the baby grand)
Sept. 26, 2021 – Brian Regan (Copeland Hall)
Oct. 8, 2021 – Theo Von (Copeland Hall)
Oct. 9, 2021 – Lewis Black (Copeland Hall)
Oct. 15, 2021 – David Sedaris (Copeland Hall)
Oct. 23, 2021 – Jeff Allen (the baby grand)
Nov. 12, 2021 – Vic DiBitetto (Copeland Hall)
Nov. 18, 2021 – Justin Willman (Copeland Hall)
Dec. 3, 2021 – Jane Lynch’s A Swingin’ Little Christmas! With Kate Flannery and Tim Davis (Copeland Hall)
March 5, 2022 – Jeanne Robertson (Copeland Hall)
April 9, 2022 – Colin Mochrie’s (of Whose Line Is it Anyway?) presents HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis (Playhouse on Rodney Square) – tickets on sale at a later date
April 21, 2022 – Whose Live Anyway? (Copeland Hall)
First State Ballet Theatre
(Tickets on sale at a later date)
Oct. 8-10, 2021 – “One Act World Premiere Ballet” (the baby grand)
Nov. 12-14, 2021 – “Up Front with FSBT” (Studio One)
Dec. 10-12, 2021 – “The Nutcracker” (Copeland Hall)
Feb. 18-20, 2022 – “Giselle” (the baby grand)
April 30-May 1, 2022 – “Swan Lake” (Copeland Hall)
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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