What should patrons expect Sunday night when they return to the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’ first in-person event in 18 months?
“Hopefully joy, celebration and relief that they have a place to go to connect with others,” said Chris Sagstetter, the Ordway’s interim president and CFO.
Those who show up to see podcaster and comedian Maz Jobrani will also see COVID protocols similar to other performing arts venues in the Twin Cities and around the country. Masks are required and ticketholders will have to show an ID and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of showtime. (Ordway employees are required to follow the same rules.) The venue has also upgraded its air filtration system to increase air flow and bring in more outside air.
Ordway staff got a preview of life under these guidelines last weekend, when it opened its doors for performances in the Concert Hall from its Arts Partnership members the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Schubert Club.
Performances at the Ordway this month are operating under reduced capacity. Sagstetter said they saw about 200 or 300 people Friday, a few more on Saturday and about 500 on Sunday. Patrons now must enter through one of the main doors out front, all of which are now open.
“That allowed us to see how things flowed,” Sagstetter said.
Staff encountered very few problems, she said. One patron without vaccination proof went and got it and returned. Several others were able to exchange tickets or get refunds. Without vaccination or negative test proof, ticketholders will not be allowed to attend. Sagstetter said these policies are already written into contracts for many touring acts.
“We will work patrons to meet their needs,” Sagstetter said.
Also, for now, the Ordway’s concessions are closed, although visitors will be offered a free bottle of water when they get inside.
As far as hiring staff goes, Sagstetter said they’re happy with how it’s gone so far. Close to 70 percent of the front-of-the-house staff is returning, and about 70 percent of those who aren’t have said they’re interested in volunteering. Two recent full-time positions drew nearly 300 combined applicants.
“It could be tough filling some after-hours positions,” she said. “But so far, so good.”
For the coming months, Sagstetter, Ordway staffers and the Arts Partnership are keeping an eye on how things are going and tweaking things as needed. “We don’t have all the answers,” she said, “but we know we have a plan and that we are able to be fluid and to pivot.”
This article has been edited to reflect that the Maz Jobrani performance is Sunday, not Saturday.