When Paul Wilborn walked onto the Palladium stage Saturday for his pre-show curtain speech, he was smiling from ear to ear. “I’ve never been this happy to see this few people in my theater,” the executive director said.
He was looking out at 150 patrons, spaced six feet apart on every side, in a hall that seats 830. “We’re able to do this because this county and this city are keeping the numbers low, by enforcing the rules,” he told them.
The Palladium’s return to live performance, a concert by blues guitarist Jose Ramirez, had been carefully planned to maximize safety and distancing. Masks were required.
Still, Wilborn reports, “Nobody was going ‘I don’t want to sit here,’ or ‘Don’t invade my space.’ It went great.
“People bought tickets as sort of general admission, but we emailed their seat assignments. And they all went to them and stayed there – except when a few couples got up together and danced, way off on the side, way apart from each other.”
Even the performers were happy and relieved for this first nod to normalcy. Ramirez’s record producer, fellow bluesman Anson Funderburgh, drove from Austin, Texas just to attend and join Ramirez onstage. “And I wasn’t even paying him,” Wilborn marvels.
Putting a small scale show – the sort that would normally be in the Side Door club downstairs – in the big room meant that Wilborn’s overhead was only moderate. “We probably made a 15 to 20 percent profit,” he says. “People bought tickets, we sold some beer … I wasn’t trying to make money, but we didn’t lose.”
The Palladium series continues Saturday, Oct. 10, with comedian Ward Smith and friends.
Across the bay, the David A. Straz Center’s Riverwalk Stage, overlooking the Hillsborough River, was the site for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a three-man comedy, Friday.
“We were all so excited,” says director Katrina Stevenson. “And so happy when the audience started showing up.”
There were 35 well-spaced tables, with a total of 95 patrons sitting in groups or pairs (only full tables were made available for purchase).
“The weather was perfect, oh my goodness it was like two hours of the most perfect, beautiful weather on the river that you could imagine,” she adds.
Saturday’s second show was rained out, but Shakespeare has a couple of dates left on the calendar. The next one is Thursday, Oct. 8.
The sense of “welcome back,” Stevenson says, was palpable.
“Everybody was happy to be out, having a drink, sitting at a table. Half the people in the audience probably knew each other.
“It was funny, because with masks on, it’s hard to see people you know very well. So it was people chatting from a distance. You could see that urge to run up and hug people kind of stopped.”