Freeman Stage announces major expansion and new name: Freeman Arts Pavilion
Despite a pandemic that's thrown many arts organizations into peril, The Freeman Stage in Selbyville will expand and now be known as Freeman Arts Pavilion.
The new venue will be built in the area east and south of The Freeman Stage. The space will be phased into use as construction evolves, but ultimately, the new stage is planned to face north and will be situated where The Cove Bar & Grille is located now.
The $27 million complex will seat over 4,000 patrons, with 1,100 of those seats under a roof. It will feature state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video capabilities, an expanded concession and dining area and artists' dressing room and production space.
Construction is expected to take four to six years, but performances will continue in the meantime.
Freeman Stage had what they deemed a successful season last year, though on a much smaller scale than usual. Before COVID-19, the open-air venue hosted an average of 50,000 people per year, according to their website. Last year, that number was reduced to 11,000.
In 2020, Freeman Stage utilized what they called "seating pods," which are defined areas that allow patrons to take in a show while remaining socially distanced. The pods, along with hand sanitizer stations and a mask mandate, allowed them to host 49 performances between July and September.
Freeman's usual capacity of 2,700 was limited to 388 (97 pods with four people in each) in 2020, and with the future timeline of COVID-19 uncertain, the spacing between patrons remain necessary.
However, thanks to a phased construction plan for Freeman Arts Pavilion, more patron seating will be available for 2021. The new land acquired for the pavilion means they can accommodate as many as 500 pods.
“The Freeman Arts Pavilion has been in the planning stages for quite some time. We realized in 2020 that our small footprint may limit our ability to present live arts performances in the future,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees the venue.
“Given the success of the pod concept this past year, we decided to utilize a phased approach on our new property, given the current public health environment caused by the pandemic.”
According to Grimes, well over half of the upcoming 2021 season is already booked, to include many of the artists who were scheduled but unable to appear in 2020.
Joshua M. Freeman Foundation President and Chair Michelle D. Freeman emphasized that The Freeman Stage and the future Freeman Arts Pavilion are more than performing arts venues.
“The mission of this organization from the day it was founded is to make the arts accessible to all,” she said.
“Even during the pandemic, we were fulfilling that mission with live performances, virtual arts in education programming and distributing arts and crafts supplies with grade-tiered instructions in English and Spanish to local school children.
"The vision for the future is to create a larger stage both in terms of the physical structure, but also in metaphoric terms for the local community.”