ArtsEmerson hosts first event since March 2020

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Photo: Mariyam Quaisar

Cutler Majestic Theater, one of ArtEmerson’s performance venues.

ArtsEmerson’s first in-person event in 18 months—an open house in the Cutler Majestic Theatre on Wednesday—aimed to reintroduce the public to theater and encourage them to get excited about this year’s slate of productions. 

“Our vision is to use the theater to connect communities more deeply to themselves and to each other, so everything we put on stage is a prompt to conversations around diversity,” David Howse, ArtsEmerson’s executive director, said.  

As stage performances were one of the first activities to shut down at the start of the pandemic, venues like the Cutler Majestic Theatre have been closed for well over a year. The open house is a chance for many to reflect on past performances, mourn those that were lost, and anticipate those which are upcoming. For senior stage production and management major Mia Tivony, Wednesday’s event was no exception. 

“This event is a welcome back to theater and a welcome home to theater makers,” Tivony said. “It’s saying ‘We can do this again, and thank God we can!’” 

Alum Malia Lazu ‘99 was visiting the theater and reminiscing on the many years she spent there watching ArtsEmerson productions. 

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“It just always feels good to walk in here,” Lazu said. “We have so many beautiful theaters in Boston, especially ArtsEmerson has so many. You just forget the ornateness and the time that it was built, and that Boston was around during the heyday of theater.”

Lazu encouraged Emerson students to attend ArtsEmerson shows because of their entertaining and exciting atmosphere. 

“ArtsEmerson is trying to change the culture of theater,” she said. “When I came to watch a play at the Paramount, it was a play that had a lot of music, and we were snapping and dancing and having a good time in the theater.”

In addition to providing a space for nostalgia and reflection with the open house, ArtsEmerson also hoped to relieve the apprehension and fear that has now become associated with large spaces, like theaters, during the pandemic. 

“Very early on into the pandemic, we decided we wanted to find a way to let people ease back into theater,” said Kevin Bacerra, ArtsEmerson’s creative producer. “We wanted to create an event which made space for people to reflect about the past year and their hesitations, but also had this edge of hope and excitement that we finally get to take advantage of these assets again.” 

“It’s about building a bridge,” Howse said. “It’s about going back into these spaces which we’ve been told are unsafe and creating an opportunity for people to slowly reorient themselves. This is also a bridge to preparing these people for our upcoming events which will resume in person in November.” 

To help people feel more comfortable while attending upcoming in-person performances, ArtsEmerson adopted several new protocols to help keep the audience safe and protected from the virus.  

“We have a number of safety protocols which are in place, and we are constantly adhering to science and the guidelines of public health officials,” Howse said. “Masks will be mandatory, we’ll have contactless ticketing, the theaters are cleaned regularly, and we have state-of-the-art ventilation systems. We’re going to be learning as we go and making adjustments as we go.” 

Audience members are likely to remain cautious when determining whether or not they will flock to shows with the frequency they once did, despite theaters being given the go-ahead to reopen months ago. 

“I recently went to an event and they made you show your vaccination card,” Lazu said. “There were like 200 people there and because of needing to show a vaccination card, I did feel safer. Here, if it was smaller and every other seat, I might feel more comfortable.”

Howse and Bacerra said they hoped that the open house would allow potential audience members to remember the importance of theater, and encourage them to be a part of what makes it so special. 

“All of the shows are free to students, so it’s really a part of campus which enriches the student experience,” Howse said. “We love to see more students coming in not only to experience the shows, but also to tell us what that experience was and help us grow with them.” 

Lazu emphasized the importance of theater within a community, especially ArtsEmerson’s role as a creative production company. 

“If they take everything else away from us, we can still do theater,” Lazu said. “It’s one of the few mediums that we can do for each other, we can’t let it die because the culture of it is really stuffy, and I think ArtsEmerson is really trying to change that.”

After having gotten the chance to explore the gorgeous theater that we call our campus, I can personally say that I am very excited to come to know this experience as one of my own. I am looking forward to reintroducing it not as a risk or a danger, but as an important and unique part of my new, non-pandemic life at Emerson.