Another Round of Shifting Plans: VOX Femina Los Angeles
Five choruses with plans for concerts in January or February 2022 share how they made the decision to either reschedule or proceed. VOX Femina Los Angeles postponed Music They Wrote (honoring past and present women composers) from February 26 to April 23. See the full series here.
Vox Femina Los Angeles had two big reasons to celebrate its concert last November 6: The event launched the 25th season for the women’s chorus, and it marked the group’s first in-person performance since the pandemic began. The event was wonderful, says executive director Rebecca Wink, “and we all thought we would have, if not a normal season, at least a hybrid season,” one that would get the group “back to concerts.” A month or so later, when Omicron hit, “we were really thrown for a loop,” she says.
The group had begun rehearsing for its next concert, scheduled for February 26. “We thought, gosh, ‘What if we have an outbreak and we have to start canceling rehearsals?’” After the holiday break, rehearsals went online to give Wink and artistic director Iris Levine time to figure out what to do. They soon decided postponing was the best course.
Making the Decision
According to Wink, the choice to postpone came down to two factors:
The profile of the concert itself
The February 26 performance was to be a centerpiece of Vox Femina’s 25th anniversary season, Wink says, “a really special concert with two huge commissions,” a multimedia component, and dance. With so much work going into it, she and Levine “didn't want to just live stream it with no audience, or even just the possibility of a very small audience.” Low turnout seemed likely, based on a ticket-buying pattern they noticed for the November concert. Wink says many of the chorus’s stalwart fans opted for digital tickets to that performance, even though COVID cases in the Los Angeles area were relatively low at the time.
The singers’ comfort level
Before acting on that inclination, they wanted to talk to the singers. From a survey, Wink already knew that half of the chorus members would not be comfortable with in-person rehearsals unless all singers would commit to being tested each week. So it was no surprise that “the vast majority of them were very relieved” at the decision to postpone the concert.
Up to that point in the process, Wink says she and Levine were the key players. “We didn't really involve the board because there just were too many details that the board wasn't privy to,” she says. But she did run the decision by the board chair before it was finalized. There was also the matter of finding a new date for the concert. The chorus’s venue, Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School, offered two possibilities, and one of them, April 23, “miraculously” worked for everyone involved. “We were lucky because if all of those things don't align, it becomes a much, much trickier decision,” she says. As a bonus, the new date may enable them to bring in a children's choir for one of the commissions, a plan that was not going to work out under the original schedule. The decision does involve at least one sacrifice, Wink says. Between April 23 and the next scheduled concert on June 11, there won’t be enough time to rehearse the planned repertoire. So VOX Femina will instead perform more casual cabaret material originally intended for a now-canceled May fundraiser, and postpone the original June program till November.
Wink sometimes feels as though she’s spent the last two years on the phone with Levine, “constantly changing course and assessing.” As a result, she says, “we're fast on our feet, ready to pivot one way or another.” Through it all, she adds, “what I learned was to not panic, and to try to find the silver lining. Because in all of this, there has been a silver lining.”
Health and Safety Protocols Currently in Place
In all communications leading up to its November concert, Winks says VOX Femina included links to the chorus’s COVID web page, emphasizing the vaccine and mask requirements driven by its venues. These are the protocols listed on the web page:
MASK WEARING All concertgoers must wear a mask indoors per the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s mandate.
PROOF OF VACCINATION
VOX Femina Los Angeles and its venues require that all guests prove they have received the full COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks before the concert. Please be ready to show your vaccine card or digital equivalent when you arrive at a concert, as we will not allow admission without both of these. Children who are not vaccinated will not be admitted. This policy will only be limited as required by law. Ticket holders who will not be fully vaccinated by the date of their concert may apply the credit to their next VOX concert or receive a full refund for their tickets.
STAY HOME IF YOU ARE ILL
Please stay home if you are sick or have COVID-19 symptoms, have been in contact with someone known to be or suspected to have been infected with COVID-19 within the last 14 days, or if you are subject to a quarantine or isolation order.
WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as often as you can. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom.
ADDITIONAL SAFETY MEASURES
PERFORMER COVID-19 TESTING
All singers will undergo both PCR & Antigen Covid-19 testing in the week prior to the concert as well as on the day of the concert to ensure that they are able to safely perform unmasked.
HAND SANITIZATION STATIONS
Additional hand sanitization stations are available in the venue.
Audience members will be seated three feet apart from any other guests within the venue. To allow for this, a limited number of tickets (300) will be sold for each performance for a venue that can seat up to 900 people.
REDUCED CONTACT EXPERIENCE
Digital tickets can be scanned directly from your mobile device. Program books will be available in both printed and digital formats and ushers will be wearing disposable gloves.
Wink says VOX Femina instituted the antigen COVID-19 testing in response to concerns singers expressed in the January survey. At the beginning of the season, the chorus added a section to its singer handbook that outlines COVID protocols and updated it in response to the Omicron variant.
Learning from an Unexpected Past, Planning for an Unpredictable Future
While deciding whether to postpone the February concert, VOX Femina decided not to sell tickets for the event. “We didn't want to sell a bunch of in-person tickets and then have to convert them to digital tickets, because the prices are different,” Wink explains. For the new April concert date, she says she’ll be looking at the way other LA arts organizations are capping audience size and managing distancing. She’ll also keep monitoring guidelines from the CDC and Los Angeles County. “My hope is that by April 23, things will look a little bit more like they did back in the summer, when we thought this was going away.” No matter what, the chorus will continue live-streaming—probably indefinitely, because, like so many other performing organizations, “we've gained a whole different audience that way,” she says.
What if a new variant once again makes virtual performances the only option? Wink hates to think about that possibility. “It would be such a blow to have to go back to online performances,” she says. “It was great at the time, because we knew we had to do this,” but she prefers to focus on the far more positive possibility that once Omicron has run its course, the worst will be over. “There's some good science suggesting that that's the case,” she says, “but you know, everything that we thought was going to happen went another direction.” The realist in her understands we will be living with the coronavirus for some time to come, and that will present difficult choices to anyone who’s been cautious about going back to rehearsals and concerts. “Masks may become part of the concert-going experience indefinitely,” she says.
“We're going to eventually have to realize, okay, we can live our lives. Some of us are going to have a flu or a cold, and that's the way it's always been.”