PORT ANGELES — Stand-and-stretch breaks and widespread mask-wearing are among the measures respondents supported in the Arts Patron COVID-19 Survey, a questionnaire sent earlier this month.
The Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra and the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts (JFFA) emailed the surveys to some 3,500 people who’ve attended, sponsored or volunteered at live performances in recent years.
By last week, 399 responses had come in — a good return by survey standards, said Kayla Oakes, JFFA’s executive director.
Both of the nonprofit arts organizations hope to present concerts and ballets this fall at the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center. And both Oakes and Jonathan Pasternack, the Port Angeles Symphony conductor and music director, were pleasantly surprised at the number of respondents who wanted to attend indoor events four or five months from now.
To the survey question “How likely are you to attend indoor public events of 50-plus people once Clallam County reaches Phase 4 of recovery?” 67 percent indicated they were very or somewhat likely to go.
At the same time, respondents commented they would go to an indoor concert only if the protocols there include face masks and social distancing.
Others said they will not consider attending until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
The survey also asked whether concert-goers are willing to wear face coverings throughout a 75- to 90-minute performance.
To that, 78 percent said yes; 8 percent said no and the rest were undecided.
A subsequent question invited respondents to check off various protocols they wanted to see before they return to large gatherings. Some 69 percent indicated they prefer masks on all attendees; 61 percent checked off masks on staff and volunteers. Nearly 78 percent favored hand-sanitizing stations at such events, 72 percent wanted socially distanced seating, and 48 percent would forgo concert intermissions to reduce crowds and mingling.
One respondent suggested a “stand and stretch in place” break instead of the traditional intermission. Oakes liked that idea, and Pasternack, in planning the symphony’s season, has created concerts of about one hour in length.
Their hope is to avoid the need for an intermission with long restroom lines.
When asked what their other concerns were about going to events at the Port Angeles High School auditorium, 39 percent of respondents listed entering and exiting the venue as an issue, while 68 percent expressed concern about restroom use.
Social distancing is difficult to impossible with those two things, Pasternack and Oakes acknowledged.
But the two presenters noted that, with socially distanced seating, their shows will have much smaller audiences — possibly reducing the doorway bottlenecks. Instead of 1,100 people in a sold-out concert of yesteryear, Oakes and Pasternack envision 300 to 400 people attending performances this season.
Yet some survey respondents said they don’t see themselves going to large gatherings for the next year or longer.
“It’s just not worth it,” one wrote.
Two others commented that they’re interested in watching live-streamed concerts at home, and Oakes said that could become a possibility. For those who do go to the high school performing arts center, the logistics would present a puzzle.
“Our real challenge is to design a way for patrons to enter and exit the venue while maintaining social distancing,” Oakes said.
“It seems doing away with a traditional intermission is possible if we can stagger restroom use on an as-needed basis and offer a ‘stand and stretch’ option.
“The dilemma is whether or not JFFA can afford to present with reduced audience size. The loss in ticket revenue will be significant,” she added.
Many who responded to the survey are frequent concert-goers, with 30 percent attending 10 or more performances through the year and another 37 percent going to six to nine events annually. And all but 6 percent indicated they’re willing to skip buying tickets at the door. Instead, they would print them at home and use mobile-device barcodes or receive their tickets in the mail.
Pasternack and Oakes noted that the Arts Patron COVID-19 Survey is an unscientific poll. But it does give some indication of what people might choose to do amid Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening process, Pasternack said.
“I was encouraged by the high percentage of people who said they would be willing to attend indoor events this fall,” he said.
The survey showed him some of the specific concerns patrons have, and “those will help us greatly in our planning.”
On the table for the Port Angeles Symphony are a joint performance in late October with the Ballet Workshop, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, plus concerts featuring the orchestra and guest soloists in November, December, February, March and May.
JFFA likewise has a season of performances that could begin in late fall, including “The Nutcracker” with the Ballet Workshop in early December.
As with the symphony’s concerts, they can happen only if the delicate balance of public health, performers’ tour schedules and economic conditions can be met.
One person voiced a belief Oakes and Pasternack share.
“Live music,” the respondent wrote, “is so essential to our health.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend. She can be reached by email at [email protected]