The Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts will hold events predominantly online for the fall semester due to challenges regarding COVID-19 restrictions, but are also planning some socially-distanced outdoor programs.
Rodney Rock, the director of Jorgensen, said any indoor programming will not be possible for the fall semester since the CDC guidelines do not permit large indoor gatherings. According to the state of Connecticut’s reopening plan, indoor events are currently capped at 25 people.
Rock said another roadblock to in-person programming is that the theater will be used as a classroom this semester, with 24 to 25 classes taking place in the center.
“To a great degree, the reopening plans are really out of our hands,” Rock said. “We do have a plan for how we could start the reopening process in the spring, if that was possible with a lower density audience.”
Rock said booking performers for in-person events would also be a challenge.
“Artists, just like anybody else, they’re concerned about contracting the virus and they’re not willing to travel a lot,” Rock said. “So, it’s really hard right now to do any live programming inside.”
Rock said he has been looking toward the possibility of a few outdoor events, since the maximum capacity is 500 people, as long as there is social distancing. Rock said he is trying to orchestrate an outdoor event in September in collaboration with the town of Mansfield to celebrate Mansfield Month. The event would most likely be a drive-by event with three to four performances throughout the day.
Rock is also considering an event where a semi-truck would serve as a fully-functioning stage and the audience would be socially-distanced in front of the truck using hula hoops 6-feet apart from each other.
“There are some creative ways to do outdoor programming,” Rock said. “Certainly, we would have to have the university’s approval on the final nature of those programs.”
This summer, Jorgensen collaborated with a company called OurConcerts.live to host live virtual concerts.
“That was a nice lowkey, easy way to orchestrate the artists,” Rock said.
The performances included a three-week chamber music series called Midsummer Music, where the Dover Quartet live-streamed their performance from Colorado. Rock said he is looking to pursue more livestream events for the fall and is working on booking six to seven livestream performances that would take place between October and December. Rock said these shows would include a broad range of artists and entertainers. He is hoping he will be able to book a big-name comedian, a major Broadway star and various cultural artists.
“It’s not just chamber music, it’s not just classical music,” Rock said. “I think that we’ve certainly got two or three things that are going to be appealing to the students.”
Ticket prices will be $20 to $30 but there will be a limited number of free tickets available for UConn students.
Though Rock said the center has to be cautious with their budget this year, he is hoping to start a new lecture series called “Arts and Activism.”
“It would feature artists and entertainers who are also activists that are very involved in social justice issues,” Rock said.
Rock said he met with a few student groups to gauge interest and to see what artists students would like to hear speak. These lectures would take place in a livestream format and will allow students to use chat features for a Q&A.
Though the center has to make major changes to the way they hold events, Rock said he is excited to see how programming will go.
“We’re really excited about the experience we’re having with virtual programming, that is really a totally new thing for the Jorgensen staff,” Rock said. “It was out of our comfort zone but we decided to take the leap of faith and really go for it and it turned out to be a really fun and exciting experience.”
Rock said that even though the center had only recently done their first online programming, the initiative was a success that he hopes to recreate this semester.
“It’s really rewarding when you actually get to the evening of the concerts and you see all of the pieces and parts come together in one virtual program that blends together seamlessly, it’s really a cool experience,” Rock said.