Currently in Massachusetts, you can dine indoors at a restaurant, you can attend church and even sing there, but you’re still not officially permitted to attend an outdoor performance of any kind.
Over the past month, Outer Cape performers, musicians, and restaurant owners have been confused about the rules for outdoor entertainment. Restaurants opened for outdoor seating on June 8 and indoor seating on June 22.
The Pearl in Wellfleet canceled its outdoor happy-hour series after a false start with a concert by Jordan Renzi on June 13. (Management at Pearl could not be reached for comment.) Stewart’s Seafood Restaurant & Tavern in Eastham canceled scheduled outdoor gigs by the Grab Brothers and Steve Morgan and the Kingfish on June 25 and 27, respectively. According to its website, Stewart’s was advised by the Eastham Board of Health that live entertainment was not permitted. Yet Chapin’s Fish & Chips and Beach Bar in Dennis Port was still doing live music seven days a week when this article went to press.
One reason for the confusion is that Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening guidelines are vague regarding the arts. Phase two guidelines for restaurants make no mention of entertainment. Arts and entertainment are under phase three; but the rules pertain to indoor venues like concert halls or theaters, not the performers themselves.
Connecticut’s reopening guidelines, by contrast, allow outdoor performances at restaurants, specifying that performers maintain 12 feet of social distance.
Massachusetts guidelines leave the specifics to be determined by local boards of health. As of June 27, Eastham’s coronavirus information page still had a diagram suggesting that outdoor performances were allowed in phase two.
Steve Katsurinis, chair of the Provincetown Board of Health, told the Independent that live performances, whether indoor or outdoor, are not allowed by the state until phase three, which could begin as soon as July 6. But a local order prohibits indoor performances altogether in Provincetown, on top of the state advisory. This does not appear to be the case in the other three Outer Cape towns.
Katsurinis said outdoor performances pose fewer risks than indoor ones, because they allow greater air circulation. “Situations where someone is talking or singing to the audience and the audience is laughing in response are particularly dangerous,” he said, citing a Centers for Disease Control study on a choir in Washington. “However, outdoor entertainment has its own challenges with regard to licensing and noise.”
Indeed, there may be differences in infection risk between vocal and purely instrumental performances.
Larry Grab, of the Grab Brothers, spoke with the Independent before his performance at Stewart’s in Eastham was canceled.
“It’s like a symbiotic relationship between musicians and restaurants,” he said, comparing their mutual survival to the stingray and hogfish. Live music attracts restaurant-goers; freelance musicians get a venue. Grab has been brainstorming safer ways to perform, including the possible wearing of a wireless microphone under a plastic face shield.
Jonathan Hawkins, who produces the virtual programming source Live From Provincetown, is working with the Provincetown Commons, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, and the Palette Fund to create the Provincetown Performing Arts Fund, to benefit performers who have lost their livelihoods. To raise money, he is planning several private outdoor concerts in people’s back yards with a handful of guests — allowed under state guidelines.
“I have no idea what is going on now, or what will be allowed 10 days or a month from now,” said Jon Richardson, who is working with Hawkins on the fund. “The only comfort I have in that terrible feeling of uncertainty is that nobody else knows, either.” While he feels the Provincetown Board of Health has done a good job, the state has left everyone guessing.
Ken Horgan, general manager of Pilgrim House in Provincetown, said he wishes performers and entertainment venues were getting the same level of guidance as restaurants and retail stores. He suggests that one reason for the lack of attention could be that performers are not unionized and don’t have an organized voice.
“The town seems to be a little more unsure about what is ‘entertainment,’ ” Horgan said. “For example, is a drag queen lip-syncing ‘live entertainment’? Is someone playing the piano and not singing ‘live entertainment’?” Performances, with precautions taken, are not fundamentally more dangerous than eating out: “One of the advantages of entertainment is that the audience member is usually masked, while restaurant-goers are unmasked,” said Horgan.
“Entertainment is such an integral part of the fabric of Provincetown culture,” said drag queen Mackenzie Miller. “While you do need to sing your heart out, you can do it with masks,” she said, also describing an idea to perform in a plexiglass box at Pilgrim House. “It may be smaller crowds, but our voices are just as loud.”