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COVID-19 Impact on CNY Arts and Culture: Redhouse Postpones Rest of Season, Turns to Social Media

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Restrictions on large gatherings have all but paralyzed Central New York’s arts, culture, and heritage institutions after they were forced to close about a month ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  That includes the Redhouse, which has postponed the remainder of its season. 

So, how is the theater trying to keep audiences engaged?  WAER News has the next story in this series about how organizations are coping.

Just like on broadway in New York City, the lights are also dark at the Redhouse theater on Salina Street downtown.

"Hi.  I'm Samara Hanna, Executive Director of Redhouse Arts Center.  I hope this message finds you all safe and healthy.  First and foremost, I'ld like to thank you for being part of the Redhouse family..."

Hanna delivered her message on the Redhouse's social media channels.     

"As you know, we've had to postpone the remainder of our 2019-2020 season.  While we're not able to bring you theater programming now, please know we're workingh behind the scenes from home to bring you a s much programming as we can.  Now, we don't know what moving forward will look like..."

Credit redhouse

In the interim, they’ve launched Virtual Redhouse…and Wednesday will feature a free online audition class with Artistic Director Hunter Foster.  [Editor's note:  the class was limited to 20 people, and is full.]

He compares the COVID-19 pandemic to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Foster was a Broadway actor in 2001 about to open a show on September 13th.  That was delayed for a week after the tragedy.

"For us, back then, there was a rush to get back into the theater because people needed each other to comfort each other, and to help each other.  This is a completely different thing because we're not allowed in the theater, we're not allowed to comfort each other, we're not allowed to congregate."

So far, like so many, Foster and the Redhouse have turned to social media to keep people engaged.  For example, he and his wife held an all-day Instagram takeover earlier in the month, featuring the making of a "film."  Later that day, they hosted a virtual happy hour.  Foster says every theater faces the same challenges.

"It's reinventing ourselves.  It's trying to figure out a way for us to reach people until we feel safe to congregate in a theater again.  What are our options.  I know there's a lot of discussions going on right now about what those might be.  I think everyone is looking to find a solution."

He says streaming performances is an option…Syracuse Stage had success posting opening night of Amadeus online…where patrons with tickets could watch it for a limited time.  But what might live performances in front of hundreds of people look like when we emerge on the other side of the pandemic?  Foster says luckily, their space is more flexible.

"At Redhouse, because we're such a versatile space, we can create audience configurations that will space people out.  We can actually move our seating around to create space between the seats."

Just like security measures taken after 9/11, he says extra health precautions should help people feel more comfortable.  For now, Foster says all they can do is be prepared.

"Part of our job is to make sure we have things ready to go, if things do get better, to have programming for the fall.  Every theater is doing that.  Every theater is having to alter their schedule, alter their plans for next season."

Meanwhile, he says they just have to wait and see like everyone else.  Foster says tragedies have taught us we can rebound…even if it takes awhile.

"I'm a firm believer that the arts...and even back during 9/11, that the arts were important for us.  It was important for the city to get back to normal.  It was important for us to feel normal as humans again.  We will come back."            

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at