Pandemic Alters Activity at The Hilde Performance Theater

Pandemic Alters Activity at The Hilde Performance Theater

By Ella Vincent

Minnesota Orchestra performing at Hilde Performance Center. Image: Minnesota Orchestra.

The Hilde Performance Theater is Plymouth’s finest amphitheater and grounds for outdoor performing arts and community events. As with every aspect of life during the Covid-19 pandemic, activities at the Hilde underwent many changes in 2020. While some traditionally held performances were canceled, other activities were held in ways that were anything but traditional.

The Hilde Performance Center opened in July 2002 with a performance by the Minnesota Orchestra. Designed by the architects who created the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis, the 45-foot tall open-air facility provides euphonious acoustics while maintaining a pastoral outdoor setting.

Normally bustling with activity, the Hilde hosts a wide variety of performances and activities each year from local musicians like the BoDeans and G. B. Leighton to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers like Cheap Trick. In addition to musical performances, the Hilde hosts a wide variety of popular community events including the annual Happy Birthday American Parade, Kids Fest, Bark in the Park, Movies in the Park, Zoomobile visits, car shows, and magicians. Typically, more than 15,000 people visit the Hilde Performance Theater each year!

Live at the Hilde concert series. Image: Plymouth Sun Sailor.

The year 2020 was anything but typical, with the world facing its first pandemic in more than 100 years. When Covid-19 spread throughout the globe, things changed dramatically everywhere and the Hilde was no exception. As the virus took hold, performances were canceled or modified due to safety concerns, government orders, or recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control.

Community events like Bark in the Park, Happy Birthday America Parade, Car Bingo, Plymouth on Parade, and Kids Fest were all canceled as a precaution to slow the spread of the coronavirus or due to restrictions. However, the ingenious folks that support Hilde Performance Center found ways to keep many of our favorite activities available and also safe. Modifications included the events being either spread out to allow distancing, made virtual, or otherwise transformed.

Some of the first major events to be altered due to the pandemic were the Music in Plymouth 5K and the Music in Plymouth festival itself. Thanks to some quick thinking and community ingenuity, these events were able to be held in modified form.  

In June, supporters of music could normally be seen gearing up to race at the Hilde Performance Center’s Music in Plymouth 5K. This annual event began in 1996 to raise money for Music in Plymouth, the area’s premier outdoor summer musical festival. The race usually begins and ends at The Hilde, but during June 2020, supporters were asked to raise awareness and support for Music in Plymouth by competing virtually from their homes and trails. Supporters were asked to wear a T-shirt from a previous Music in Plymouth 5K — or any musically themed T-shirt – and run their own homegrown 5K.  

Reimagining a larger festival such as Music in Plymouth itself, turned out to be a far more difficult task. For almost a half century, Music in Plymouth has been one of the largest and most popular local events held at the Hilde. In 1972, Former Mayor Al Hilde, Jr. formed the Plymouth Civic League (PCL) to bring the Minnesota Orchestra to Plymouth to boost community spirit while providing a night of free quality entertainment. The celebration expanded to include additional family friendly entertainment, finishing with a crowd favorite firework displays set to music. It has grown from a singular annual concert into a truly iconic summer event.

In 2020, however, Music in Plymouth was first postponed and scaled back to its roots with residents invited to picnic while the Minnesota Orchestra performed. Later, the event was reimagined due to restrictions on community gatherings and became Music in Plymouth: A Virtual Celebration. The Plymouth Civic League creatively decided to produce a livestream video that brought the history of performances at the Hilde and the benefits of the annual Music in Plymouth festival through a digital platform available to homes across the globe.  The video introduced the beauty of The Hilde Performance Center and its surroundings to many people who would have otherwise not been able to see it in-person.  

Also going virtual was the 10th annual Music in Plymouth Wine Tasting, which was held in October 2020. Participants purchased one of four tasting packages of wine, beer and craft cocktails that were available for curbside pickup. Each package included tasting notes, pairing suggestions and a link to an online event to enhance their at-home experience. The online event featured beverage presentations by experts, music and prizes.

As the pandemic surged near the end of 2020, events were again planned, canceled and otherwise creatively modified. Originally, the innovative organizers of Holiday at the Hilde were set to bring holiday spirit in a new way with a winter walk through the Hilde, treats, and a socially distant visit with Santa. Unfortunately, the December event was cancelled almost entirely.

Winter Wonderland light display at Hilde Performance Center, Winter 2020-2021.
Image: Plymouth Sun Sailor.

One aspect of Holiday at the Hilde that remained, and to great success, was the holiday light display. Capitalizing on the hot trend of 2020 holiday light events to uplift the mind and spirits, Hilde Performance Center was transformed into a glittering winter wonderland with thousands of brightly colored lights. Visitors could stroll through lighted tunnels, gaze at shooting stars, rainbow trees, and other light displays while maintaining social distance.

Such social distance under the lights was central to yet another planned event that ultimately was cancelled, called Skate the Hilde. The Hilde Performance Center invited visitors to pull on their ice skates and glide over to The Hilde’s frozen pond while enjoying the light displays. Unfortunately, Skate the Pond was canceled due to safety concerns as well as plunging winter temperatures.

While many events were cancelled or celebrated differently during 2020, The Hilde Performance Center itself remained a mainstay. Throughout the pandemic, the serene, forest-enclosed grounds of The Hilde offered respite for many people. Regardless of the season or status of the pandemic, visitors could stroll the paths or sit by the ponds near the amphitheater. Visitors could also make music of their own with the interactive musical art installations on the grounds. While many things changed at The Hilde Performance Center in 2020, its tradition of offering the very best of Plymouth remained during the pandemic, and still today.

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