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Here's a Look at Orlando’s New Outdoor Venue Built for Socially Distant Events

The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is on a mission to support the return of live events and entertainment with a new outdoor theater and six-month-long festival.

Construction of the Dr. Phillips Center's outdoor theater is underway. Its debut will be marked by the opening night of the six-month-long Frontyard Festival on Dec. 5. The ongoing live entertainment fest will bring back in-person events in a safe, socially distant setting.
Construction of the Dr. Phillips Center's outdoor theater is underway. Its debut will be marked by the opening night of the six-month-long Frontyard Festival on Dec. 5. The ongoing live entertainment fest will bring back in-person events in a safe, socially distant setting.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

ORLANDO—You may think the future of live events remains uncertain, but the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is saying think again. In the heart of downtown Orlando, the theater’s scaffolding is undergoing a $250,000 transformation into an entertainment venue where more than 1,500 guests will be able to enjoy live performances on the outdoor stage via 380 socially distant seating boxes, or “pods.”

“The big idea is to use this platform to uplift our community and raise awareness about how COVID-19 has devastated our entire industry,” says Kathy Ramsberger, president and CEO of Dr. Phillips Center, in a recent press release. 

The design for the 3-acre, open-air theater models that of an indoor one, but is crafted to combat the spread of COVID-19. As a result, the 5-by-7-foot pods will not only be positioned 6 feet apart but will also be raked, with the rear ones sitting higher than those in the front. Each platform will accommodate up to five guests and boast summer patio-inspired design elements like sleek wood fencing and accents of live greenery.

While the outdoor theater remains under construction, the arts center has announced the starting lineup of its six-month-long Frontyard Festival that's set to kick off Dec. 5 and run through May 2021 in an effort to bring back what we've all been missing. The program includes 180 events of all types—from musical and community arts performances to comedy shows, health and wellness events, and more. Complete with food and drinks via contactless delivery to guests' pods, the festival will serve as a glimpse into the "new norm" of attending large-scale events and performances.

Steven Wolff, founding principal of AMA Planning & Research and AMS Analytics, which provided consulting services in the arts and entertainment industries, notes that “most guests just aren’t sure it’s safe to return to indoor venues. I expect [Dr. Phillips Center's] solution will be watched and may even be replicated in other markets, because there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the country.”

Other safety precautions becoming more common include temperature checks upon entry, touchless hand sanitizer stations throughout the venue, mask mandates, and cashless transactions.

Ramsberger expresses that “after eight long months, it’s immensely rewarding to produce and present live programming again, but our overarching objective is to draw attention to the long, difficult road ahead.”

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