A return to the arts: WICA prepares Summer Nights Series

— Created May 27, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kacie Jo Voeller

Prepare for music and performances under the stars with Whidbey Island Center for the Art’s (WICA’s) Summer Night Series. While guests may be six feet apart, local music and artistic performances are being planned to make a return to the (outdoor) stage this summer.

Verna Everitt, executive director of WICA, said the vision for the Summer Nights Series is to hold performances and provide community entertainment in a safe way. Everitt said the center plans to bring in local musicians and a variety of acts, including a comedian and a play.

“It is definitely different,” she said. “Number one, it is outdoors. We are not doing any programming for the summer indoors, but we do have a little stage with a platform and we are looking at taking sound and lights out there to make it sound great.”

Robert Merry, chair of WICA’s board of directors, said safety is paramount as the theater plans for future performances, and the center will not hold any events until Phase 3 of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start program.

“Throughout the summer we do not plan to open up our mainstage theater at all but we will have outdoor programming,” he said. “That is what Summer Nights is designed to do: get people together under strict guidelines, social distancing and masks and all the rest, while giving our community a taste of the artistic expression that we are known for.”

Everitt said the theater is considering summer dates dependent on when it is safe to start programming. She said the performance dates will be subject to change, but the organization hopes to begin sometime in mid-to-late June, depending on guidance from the state and keeping the best interest of the community in mind.

“We have to stick our toes in the water and figure it out,” she said. “First of all, the most important thing is that we are following all of the rules and regulations that Gov. Inslee has stipulated. Those rules are changing daily and we are keeping an eye on everything.”

Merry said adaptation and creativity have been key to moving forward for the organization. He said looking beyond the Summer Nights Series, WICA has started to reconfigure the indoor theater for future seasons when indoor events are possible with social distancing in mind and a cabaret style of seating being used.

“We are adjusting to this thing as dramatically as we possibly can in order to get back in the saddle and to keep our mighty steed moving forward,” he said. “That includes a whole new kind of programming for this coming season. We have sort of ripped up the old concept because we are taking events and coming up with a different approach to seating, a different approach to safety that is a far more stringent and active approach to safety, (and) a different approach to programming.”

Everitt said she feels it is important to offer an opportunity for those who feel comfortable with doing so to gather for performances.

“I like to say the stuff we do here quickens the heart and engages our minds,” she said. “We want our minds off of this and we want to be swept away to another world and that is what we do here every day when things are normal, so we are going to try a little bit of that this summer.”

In addition to starting to plan potential summer shows, Everitt said WICA has been finding ways to stay connected to the community through online means. The arts center recently started 98260, a video series centered on different organizations in the community, from restaurants to Whidbey Island Dance Theatre.

“I think the important thing is to stay relevant in the community because we are a touchstone; I like to say we are the town square where cultural happenings occur,” she said. “When we closed our doors, we asked, ‘How can we continue to stay relevant?’”

Everitt said WICA’s mission of bringing artistic expression to Whidbey Island remains key as the organization moves forward.

“We are here to deliver art to the community and they need it now more than ever because art is something that does engage the mind and stirs the heart and we need that,” she said. “It is our mission, and our mission has to be fulfilled even in circumstances like this. But the most important thing I could say is the health and well-being of our community members is first and foremost, and once people feel comfortable, we will deliver the goods in a form of entertainment that will sweep them away for a little while.”

Merry said he feels it is important to find a way to follow guidelines while also providing a place for arts in the community.

“We are doing everything we can to find that balance, that equilibrium, between the safety and the health of our patrons and our neighbors and at the same time maintaining our identity and our mission as people of artistic expression,” he said.

Another goal of restarting programming is to offer an opportunity for local artists and performers to work again, Everitt said.

“We live in a very creative community,” she said. “It is chock-filled with artists of every sort and they simply lost their livelihood, just like that.”

WICA, which closed its doors to patrons March 11, has been cognizant and cautious while navigating through the environment caused by COVID-19, Everitt said.

“We were proactive and we are still proactive,” she said. “I want people to know that we are proactive with their safety and health first and foremost.”

For more information on programming and updated performance dates, visit www.wicaonline.org.