By Mike Ryan, Director of Operations at Frost Amphitheater
and Loree Lewis, Writer and Associate Producer at Stanford Health Care

Outdoor spaces such as Frost Amphitheater and the implementation of public health protocols will play a large role in the transition back to live performance. Photo by Harrison Truong 

In March 2020, Stanford Live made the difficult but necessary decision to put our season on hold due to rising cases of COVID-19 in our community. At the time, like so many, we thought that after a short recess to contain the spread of the virus, we would resume operations. Weeks turned to months, and performing arts organizations around the world were faced with their greatest challenge—surviving without live performance or patrons.

Now, after nearly a year of unimaginable tragedy and loss across the globe, we can begin to see a light at the end of a very long and twisting tunnel. Operating in that same global darkness, Stanford Live has tirelessly planned the reopening of our venues, as Bing Concert Hall and Frost Amphitheater have been without their most warming element—their audience—for a year. And like the experience of so many across industries, our best-laid plans have often been thwarted by conditions beyond our control around every blind turn. Staff members at Stanford Live have been admirable and gracious in their ability to work on proposals for events, rework them, and then start from scratch in the face of ever-changing public health crises and shifts in state and county guidance. Much has been learned about the importance of adaptability, scalability, and flexibility in our planning.

Looking toward the spring and summer of 2021, public health conditions permitting, we see a path forward to responsibly welcome you back into our spaces. Frost Amphitheater, with its expansive outdoor and tiered layout, is the obvious choice for our return to socially distanced live performance. When recently asked at a town hall meeting of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) about how to safely host outdoor events, Dr. Anthony Fauci responded that an outdoor event is “much, much safer than indoors.”

"Socializing outside will dramatically reduce the risk of transmission,” explains Dr. Megan Mahoney, Stanford Health Care chief of staff and Stanford Medicine primary care physician. “The wind disperses the virus.”

Stanford Live’s approach to reopening our venues is incremental, both in the complexity of events as well as audience size. To start, we envision a spring series of film screenings in Frost, projected onto a large screen in front of the stage. With our focus on films that feature Stanford alumni, patrons are sure to find a movie in our lineup they would love to see in the beautiful park-like setting of Frost. This will give us the opportunity to welcome limited audiences back in a casual setting, while allowing our patrons to acclimate to our COVID-compliant practices and procedures. We have conducted extensive research and meticulous planning to consider how to set up patron arrival, paths of travel, restroom areas, and concessions to ensure we can maintain social distancing and minimize areas of congregation. We kept sanitization protocols and limiting interactions with working staff top of mind as we developed our blueprint for reopening.

Bing Concert Hall is equipped with the proper ventilation recommended by Dr. Fauci for indoor operations to resume when the majority of the population is vaccinated. Photo by Jeff Goldberg 

During the summer months, our hope is to fold in varying forms of entertainment, from stand-up comedy to live music. We have developed a scalable set of plans that will allow us to adapt to evolving state and county guidance regarding gatherings. We are prepared to present as much as we can in a safe and responsible way to ensure we are protecting our patrons at every turn.

Moving into fall, we have reason to be optimistic about welcoming our community back into Bing Concert Hall. On the aforementioned call with APAP, Fauci indicated that if the vast majority of the population is vaccinated and venues are equipped with proper ventilation, we could see a return to some sort of normal venue operations in the fall and winter of 2021. Bing Concert Hall is already outfitted with the proper ventilation to remove airborne contaminants, and seating in all venues will be arranged to keep distance between members of different households. We find Fauci’s observations to be a promising indicator for a return to indoor performance when it is safe.

Basic public health practices such as wearing a mask and keeping distance from people in other households will remain important when venues reopen. Visit the Stanford Health Care COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more. Image by Vivian Liberti

As we navigate these unprecedented and uncertain times, we keep our audience at the fore of all our planning. We ask that you follow along with us on this journey and share in the spirit of adaptability and flexibility that we bring to our planning. We will also be counting on you to protect your health and the health of those around you by continuing to wear a mask, practicing hand hygiene with widely available hand sanitizer, and staying home if you are not feeling well.

To all the members of our community who have lost loved ones or suffered hardship over the last year, our hearts go out to you. We remain committed to fostering experiences for us all to be together, to grieve together, and hopefully to experience some catharsis together through live performance.


This article is brought to you in partnership with Stanford Medicine. To learn more about staying safe during the pandemic, visit the Stanford Health Care COVID-19 Resource Center.