Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.
There is an empty lot across Bank Street from the offices of the Virginia Arts Festival and right next to Scope Plaza in downtown Norfolk. I would bet that Rob Cross, VAF Perry Artistic Director, has been looking at that empty lot for over a year, every time he walks into work, thinking about turning it into an outdoor stage for the VAF and other arts organizations in town that have been shut down during the pandemic.
I am giddy with excitement to write about the new venue in town that will soon be erected on that empty lot – Bank Street Stage. Located at the corner of Bank Street and East Charlotte Street, this outdoor site will accommodate live performances and events, meet COVID-19 restrictions, including social-distanced seating, and make us all happy that we can hear live music again, together but distanced.
The new space is officially named the Virginia Arts Festival Bank Street Stage. “Arts patrons are hungry for performances, and artists are eager to perform,” says Rob Cross. “We continue to innovate and imagine performance spaces that are suited not just to the current pandemic conditions, but for the future as well.”
VAF has worked with the City of Norfolk, Visit Norfolk, Downtown Norfolk Council and Seven Venues to create a performance venue that is safe and will attract new and repeat visitors to Norfolk.
The Bank Street Stage tent will be installed here at the beginning of April!
Bank Street Stage will open for performances in April. There will be a large, semi-permanent tent, with a floor to keep the damp away from your feet. Performances will run rain or shine, but not through lightning, thunder or hurricanes. The seating will be arranged in pods. Depending on the number of tickets you purchase, your party will be assigned a pod. There will be one entrance, touchless entry for the tickets, and an usher to escort your party to a pod. There will be a mask requirement and hand sanitizing stations. All CDC protocols will be followed.
"Pod" style seating charts will assist with social distancing.
VAF has amazing partnerships with the region’s arts organizations, like the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Virginia Opera, Virginia Stage Company, Norfolk State University Theatre Company, Old Dominion University’s performing arts, Governor's School for the Arts, and many more. All of these organizations are eager to use the new Bank Street Stage for rehearsals and performances.
VAF will release performance dates soon. Check the VAF website and Spotlight News for more details, but here are some sneak peeks of what’s coming to Bank Street Stage:
August Wilson’s play How I Learned What I Learned, co-produced by Virginia Stage Company, Norfolk State University Theatre Company and VAF
Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion
Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti, co-produced by Virginia Opera, Virginia Symphony Orchestra and VAF
Chamber Music Series
“A Musical Tribute to Aretha Franklin & Whitney Houston”, co-produced by Norfolk State University Theatre Company and VAF
Jazz Series featuring Jae Sinnett, Jimmy Masters and John Toomey
There is much more being planned. VAF will roll out the Bank Street Stage schedule three weeks to a month at a time, because we all have to think in the flexible mode for now. VAF wants you to know that you can purchase tickets with confidence. The box office will be friendly and flexible.
After a year of this, I think we can all agree that we’d love to return to “normal,” but we still need to be careful and flexible. I think we can also agree that Bank Street Stage looks like one light shining at the end of a long tunnel, for the artists, the concert-goers, the restaurants and businesses downtown, and everyone who loves the arts.