ITHACA, N.Y.—After two years of uncertainty with the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, the Hangar Theatre is moving forward with the production of an outdoor stage.

After going online like nearly everything else did in March 2020, the theatre completed its 2021 season entirely outside to allow for proper social distancing and make all patrons comfortable while enjoying Hangar Theatre productions. Out of the 72 shows scheduled in 2021, 16 got canceled due to rain because the production stage was not covered.

The building, which is located on a flood plain where the inlet meets Cayuga Lake, has seen rounds of consistent flooding challenges over the past few years and twice in 2021 despite the 2010 construction that raised the whole building up 10 inches. 

“This year we’re doing half in the theater, which has a lot of flood mitigation things in it, and half outside,” marketing manager Ri Bornstein said. There are 40 shows scheduled for the inside main stage and 32 for the new outdoor state this summer.

The new outdoor stage, which faces the Allan H. Treman Marina, is a covered 30-foot circus tent with a 600-square foot interior that will house about 200 seats at the same height as the stage, which protrudes into the audience. Because of the flood risk of the area, the ground will be raked and have 10 inches of gravel to help drain rainwater and lessen mud.

“It lets people get pretty close to what’s going on, and the performance comes out into the audience which surrounds. I think the experience is going to be great,” Bornstein said.

Managing Director R.J. Lavine said that because of the recurring flooding issues, as of Jan. 2022 the theatre’s insurance provider “declined to renew our policy,” which was an add-on to the building’s general liability coverage.

Lavine said that moving forward, most likely the flood insurance option would come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Having exhausted all mitigation efforts possible from within the Hangar building, we’re looking to the City for solutions outside its doors.”

Another goal for the outdoor stage is to enhance the productions. “Performance is incredibly dynamic, and we do all kinds of things with the shore, the lake and the woods nearby. Being in a place like that is really different from just watching something up on a stage,” they said.

Bornstein said that this year’s programming includes mainstage performances, KIDDSTUFF, Dan Smalls Presents (DSP) and The Wedge, which focuses on experimental theater.

Of particular note, “Trans Am,” which runs Aug. 19 through 21 toward the end of the season, is an autobiographical rock musical that focuses on Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday as they embark on a personal journey as a trans rock musician. “This rendition of the production is going to be a full band, and it’s going to happen outside under the tent,” Bornstein said, also mentioning that the outdoor stage will be a music venue.

KIDDSTUFF has four productions, descriptions of which can be found here, and will put on sensory-friendly performances every Saturday at 10 a.m. throughout the season. These productions will provide sensory items like weighted lap pads and fidget spinners free of charge.

DSP’s programming includes “Todd Snider: Pickin’. Grinnin’. Tellin’ Stories. Takin’ Requests” tour, Eilen Jewell & Jerry Miller and Martin Sexton The ‘22 Tour.

Construction is currently scheduled to begin mid-April and wrap up mid-May in time for the season to start June 15. As part of its COVID safety plan, audience members must show proof of vaccination for indoor shows and masks are encouraged.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...