One of the more positive, tangible signs that we’re moving closer to the end of the pandemic was the announcement this week that Spoleto Festival USA will kick off here in May.
The 2020 version of the festival was canceled, the first time that had happened since its founding in 1977. It’s now Charleston’s first major festival to return since the virus arrived last year and shut down nearly everything.
Admittedly, this year’s festival, which will run from May 28 to June 13, will be abridged — only about one-fourth its traditional size — but still will include a wide variety of international music, dance, theater and other artistic events. Since few expect the pandemic to be fully over by then, this year’s festival sensibly will offer fewer performances with fewer seats.
“Despite the constraints and challenges, this season will be remembered for its moments of immense beauty,” Spoleto General Director Nigel Redden told our arts writer Maura Hogan. “I want each audience member to have an unforgettable, magical experience — the kind that can only come from seeing live performance.”
There still will be chamber music inside the Dock Street Theatre and several notable concerts in the safer, outdoor venue of the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard, but no Westminster Choir or operatic offerings. The festival worked closely with the Medical University of South Carolina on suitable precautions and safety steps.
In fact, in this year’s version of Spoleto, the creativity won’t just be on stage. Sometimes, it will be the stage itself. The festival is repurposing the Charleston Visitor Center Bus Shed — essentially an outdoor space protected from rain — for evening theatrical performances of “The Woman in Black.”
Meanwhile, the city of Charleston also is planning to stage a reduced version of its Piccolo Spoleto Festival to showcase the talent of local and regional artists. Charleston Cultural Affairs Director Scott Watson said there won’t be any tickets sold or printed brochure or crowded sunset serenade concerts outside the U.S. Customhouse, but there will be many smaller outdoor events across the city’s parks and public spaces. “The mantra we’ve been given is keep it safe, don’t draw a crowd,” he said. “I view it as an opportunity rather than a challenge.”
Both festivals plan to stream performances to expand their artistic reach. A provisional Piccolo calendar is expected to be posted online in mid-May. Spoleto's tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. April 13 via spoletousa.org or by calling 843-579-3100.
Spoleto Festival's organizers heard suggestions that it cancel its 1990 festival because Hurricane Hugo dealt such a powerful punch to the city the previous fall, but that show went on — a sure sign that Charleston was back. Likewise, the festival's return this year is a happy sign that we're all coming back, perhaps somewhat different than before but still with flair.