FARGO — For the first time in more than 13 months, the curtain is going up soon at the Fargo Theatre.
The iconic building will open its doors to the public Saturday, May 1, for Fargo-Moorhead Ballet's production, Copeland Dance Concert.
It will be the first time the public has been in the landmark downtown theater since it closed in mid-March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reopening is being met with a mix of excitement and exhaustion.
“Busy,” Fargo Theatre Executive Director Emily Beck says when asked how things are, days before letting people in again.
“It’s pretty crazy around here, but in a good way,” she adds. “We’ll be putting in some long days getting ready. I don’t think any of us here mind the extra hours.”
Preparations range from building maintenance projects, cleaning out soda lines and restocking concessions to specialty staff training for ensuring a safe space for employees and the public.
While visitors may spot some new paint, what they’ll notice first are signs stating the Fargo’s mask policy. Masks are required in all public spaces, like in line for concessions, but can be removed once someone takes their assigned, socially distant seat.
For at least the first two months, the Fargo will limit seating to 250 of the 870 total seats.
“The seating chart is the hardest puzzle to figure out,” says Matthew Gasper, artistic director of FMBallet, referring to how to abide by social distancing while still seating families and friends close to each other.
While getting back on the stage is a huge step for the dancers, it’s almost as important to dance in front of a live audience, Gasper says.
“It’ll be great for the dancers. It’s what we need as performing artists, that reassurance in the applause,” he says. “It’s very deflating not to have an audience to support us in what we do. As performing artists, we live for that roar of the crowd.”
Gasper had planned on performing “Cinderella,” but due to COVID-related safety concerns, opted to downsize to a smaller production. The Copeland Dance Concert features choreography by Gasper, his mother Kathryn Gasper and FMBallet’s Lindsey Setzekorn, set to music by Aaron Copeland.
The Fargo Theatre’s next public event will be a Messiah Dance Theatre performance on May 21.
Beck says there’s still no date set for when the Fargo will start regularly screening movies again as films aren’t currently steadily being released. She suspects more titles could start rolling out in the summer.
In the meantime, she’s looking at showing one classic movie a month so people can get that theater experience.
When Best Actress-winner Frances McDormand spoke during the Oscars on Sunday night, she urged the audience to see her Best Picture-winner, “Nomadland,” in the theaters. The film is currently streaming on Hulu, and Beck says that while some theaters are playing films even as they stream on platforms, the Fargo has been reluctant to do so, but may for some titles like “Nomadland,” which was largely shot in South Dakota.
“Nomadland” writer/director Chloe Zhao’s debut, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, won the Fargo Film Festival’s Prairie Spirit Award in 2016.
Beck was happy to see “Colette” win Sunday night for Best Documentary Short Subject. The short film was one of the featured titles at this year’s Fargo Film Festival, held online.
“We were just thrilled. My phone started ringing off the hook from staff,” Beck says.
Going ahead with the Fargo Film Festival virtually helped keep the theater afloat during the past year. The event is usually the biggest annual moneymaker for the Fargo.
Beck says even before the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Fargo began building a rainy day fund to get through a rough patch. A number of grants helped ease the financial strain as the theater went dark, but just as important was community support.
“People in the community were very generous,” Beck says, adding that everything from curbside popcorn sales to renting out the marquee to sharing a message to fundraisers helped the organization stay afloat to open again.
“We’re coming out of this pretty darn strong, and I’m thankful for that,” she says.