The Villages’ social lifestyle comes back

Villagers can look forward to bands like Studio 77 performing on the squares beginning Oct. 5.

October will bring the return of three popular elements of The Villages lifestyle: nightly entertainment on the squares, club activities at Villages recreation centers and live shows at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, each with new guidelines to keep residents safe. The squares will once again host nightly live entertainment beginning Oct. 5, with some added social distancing parameters. “We’ve kept a close eye on other facilities across the country and how they’ve been doing,” said Brian Russo, director of entertainment. “We’ve seen amusement parks, stadiums and other outdoor entertainment destinations open up successfully. We’re excited for our whole community to start opening up again.”

For the time being, squares will open with a limited capacity that allows for social distancing, Russo said.

Staff members will man a single entry and exit point to limit crowd size.

Those entering the square must pick up a free pass through The Villages Box Office, which will be available starting at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 2 and can be acquired at box office windows, online at tickets.thevillages.com or by calling 352-753-3229. People will need to select the square and day they wish to attend.

Passes, which will be valid for the entire evening, will ensure that there is enough room for everyone to safely enjoy the squares, Russo said.

On Oct. 5, Trip 19 will be the entertainer at Spanish Springs Town Square, with Studio 77 headlining Lake Sumter Landing Market Square and Paisley Craze kicking things off at Brownwood Paddock Square.

Paisley Craze band leader Marty Bednar said the group is honored to be picked as one of the first returning acts.

“After all these years of doing music, from concerts and touring private clubs, we see The Villages as a more high-end, upper-tier gig because we know they’re careful about having good bands,” Bednar said.

He hopes fans take away that they can have fun and enjoy live music while staying safe.

“That’s the message we want to get across to people,” he said. “Everybody has to alter what they’re doing a little bit, but it can be done.”

In addition to live music, residents can once again enjoy drinks from the bar huts, which will have an added safety shield between patrons and staff.

For the time being, happy hour will not take place to keep lines to a minimum, Russo said, adding that “rest assured, happy hour will be back soon.”

At this time, chairs will not be provided, so people will need to bring their own.

Russo said the department will closely monitor the squares and make adjustments as needed to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

“We are starting small and will continue opening up as we feel it is safe to do so,” he said. “I’m incredibly excited, but also very aware of the responsibility that comes with this. We’re taking a lot of precautions to make sure people feel safe but can also enjoy themselves. So many people love having the squares and we’re thrilled we can get them going again.”

Also beginning Oct. 5, resident lifestyle clubs can begin meeting again at limited capacity at recreation centers.

The Department of Recreation and Parks’ new safety guidelines are available in today’s Recreation and Parks News and at districtgov.org.

“What we were doing prior to COVID has changed to offer a safer lifestyle environment going forward: the capacity, the room setups, the expectations for people to make sure they monitor themselves before they come,” said John Rohan, director of Recreation and Parks.

Rohan said his staff will work with club leaders to determine when and how to safely meet, so club members should check with club leaders to learn whether their club will return to the recreation center environment.

The maximum capacity of groups will be determined by the type of activity and room setup.

Clubs will not be allowed to provide entertainment or bands at meetings until further notice, and performances and theater productions will not be available until further notice.

“They might watch a movie, listen to music or play bingo, Rohan said. “There’s lots of different things they can do without having entertainment. Each club will come up with some creative ways to engage their club members and enjoy the activity.”

Masks will be required when residents are within 6 feet of each other, and sanitation stations will be available throughout the recreation centers.

Additionally, AV equipment and microphone use will be limited, and kitchens may be used on a limited basis: no warming, cooking or prepping food will be allowed, and caterers must be self-contained with disposable items.

Rohan said guidelines will be subject to change as safety needs dictate.

“We are excited for our residents who have been patiently waiting to resume some level of resident lifestyle activity,” Rohan said. “They’ve done such a great job staying safe. And we’ll get through this together. I’m looking forward to this being the beginning for more opportunities down the road.”

On Oct. 9, The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center will again open its doors with “Divas Through the Decades,” a one-woman cabaret starring RuthAnn “Pinky” Bigley, who has performed on tours such as “Les Misérables” and “Evita.”

A Villages Philharmonic Orchestra Pops Concert is scheduled for Oct. 11, featuring popular classics and guest artists Anna Eschbach, Marcella Richardson, Norman Lee and Sean Stork.

Shows will be held in a socially distanced auditorium, said Elizabeth Constant, booking coordinator at The Sharon.

“We feel like we have the safety protocols set to keep everyone safe and happy, patrons and staff alike,” Constant said.

She said that in addition to 6-foot markers on the ground, the 1,000-seat theater has been limited to 200 seats, which are spaced into various groupings of one, two, three and four clusters, “so people can sit by their household partners without having to sit right next to anyone outside their immediate day-to-day party.”

All patrons will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask and must go directly to their seats upon arrival. Additionally, programs will be digital.

More details about the safety measures are located under the “Reopening” tab atthesharon.com.

“It will be nice to practice our new entry protocol for single shows, Pinky’s cabaret and VPO Pops, in order to get us ready for the long run of ‘Pipeline’ in The Sharon,” Constant said.

“Pipeline” is the first show of The Studio Theatre Tierra del Sol’s Season 5, and it will run later in the year at The Sharon instead of The Studio to allow for social distancing.

“The idea of returning to my life’s passion is exhilarating,” said Whitney Morse, artistic director at The Sharon. “We will always be working to bring live entertainment in the safest possible way for our patrons, performers and staff.”

She said The Sharon staff has been working tirelessly to bring arts to The Villages patrons in every way possible, including many free and low-cost options for virtual performances, available on thesharon.com.

Tickets are available for purchase online at thevillagesentertainment.com or at any Villages Box Office location.

Staff writer Liz Coughlin can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5304, orliz.coughlin@thevillagesmedia.com.