Michigan Opera Theatre Reconfigures Seating, Gears Up to Host Live Shows

As novel coronavirus pandemic restrictions are becoming something of a new normal around the state, venues like Michigan Opera Theatre are having to make do with virtual performances and online outreach to fans. But due to a recent reconfiguration of MOT's seating arrangements, live performances might soon be a reality. That's because MOT event organizers purchased a 9,100-square foot deck that can be installed above the theater's normal seating. Chief Administrative Officer Patricia Walker said that when in place, it will allow attendees to social distance while attending MOT's shows.

"When we're operating as a theater with theater seats, there are 2,700 seats in the opera house. So, utilizing traditional theater seating, you can get quite a few people into that theater. Now, it's a very different style of event when you put up the deck, but if social distancing is still in place, we can still fit probably 250 people on the deck and stage area and ensure the six-foot radius," Walker said. "When social distancing is not a requirement, we can seat over 500 on the deck."

The idea for the installation of the deck came about after Levitation Staging, a Grand Rapids-based staging equipment company, shut its doors. The company's representatives reached out to MOT and offered to sell the deck. Having used Levitation Staging's services before, Walker said that MOT jumped at the opportunity.

"We would lease it for specific events like "BravoBRAVO!", the MOT Gala and, on rare occasions, when somebody wanted to [use] the opera house for a wedding and they really needed a large space," Walker said. "… Thanks to the generosity of a donor from the Michigan Opera Theatre, Floy and Lee Barthel, we purchased the deck. And the decision to put it up and keep it up during the pandemic period is basically because of the need for social distancing."

In addition to allowing guests to attend shows like normal, Walker said that attendees can expect no interruption in food and beverage services and they will be able to view shows in unique formats — especially if it's a smaller, more intimate performance.

Watch the deck be set up over the theater's existing seating:

"It can give us a lot of versatility for how to use the opera house. But it also provides so much versatility for the kind of events we can do and how the event feels," Walker said. "So we can now build out that main floor decking and we can create more of a cabaret-style performance within the opera house, so people are sitting at tables and it's a much smaller, more intimate feel and yet you still have the incredible Detroit Opera House Auditorium around you. And you can use it for a ballroom, for wedding receptions, you can use it for corporate meetings and we certainly are able to do concerts and things like that on the stage as well."

And regarding acoustics, Technical Director Dan Brinker said that there's a chance that the deck will improve the theater's sound.

"It certainly will be a different kind of feel, but it follows very closely the original slope of the stage, it's not a perfectly flat deck in our typical installation, and so it will mimic and maintain the good acoustics that we have there," Brinker said. "We expect it to be equally as good and possibly even a slight improvement in the acoustics."

And because the deck will bring guests closer to the stage, Brinker feels that it'll be an "interesting experience" for longtime MOT fans. And for those feeling insecure about attending an event in closer proximity than virtually, Walker outlined security precautions that MOT has been taking.

"We will have the ability to host indoor gatherings safely, and when we're ready to [host performances again] we will have our pandemic plan published on our web page," she said. "We've been working NSF International to create a national public health plan for reopening the opera house to ensure absolute safety. And by putting this deck in place we can offer social distancing in place to host any number of events at the opera house, and we're looking forward to being able to put those into practice."

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