Strauss Festival

The Strauss Festival of Elk Grove has entertained audiences at Elk Grove Regional Park every July since 1987.

Had the year gone according to schedule, July 23 would have marked the opening of the 2020 Strauss Festival of Elk Grove at Elk Grove Regional Park. Now, with the performances pushed back to next year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, festival organizers say they are using the time to refine their plans.

Strauss Festival co-chairs Margie Jones and Beth Hedlund announced the decision to delay the annual tribute to composer Johann Strauss Jr. on May 5. The theme planned for this year — “Waltzing in Wonderland” — will now be performed next July.

The next planned Strauss event is the Spring Tea on March 6. The 2021 festival is scheduled for July 28-31.

Organizers this month told the Citizen that the postponement had been “devastating” for the people involved in bringing the elaborate music and dance numbers to life. The performance had been planned out, and dancers had been cast by the time that the March restrictions on public gatherings were put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The possible health risk “was one of the reasons we had to cancel back when we did,” Hedlund said. “In order to prepare for the Strauss Festival, you have to do the dancing, and they (the dancers) are in such close contact that there’s no way you can rehearse safely.”

The financial impact of canceling has been mixed. Hedlund noted that, while the festival is saving the money it would have spent to have performances, it also has lost grant funds.

Jones said the production team will use the extra time to build on the Wonderland plans.

“I guess in some ways it gives us a little chance to regroup and spend a little more time on the theme,” Jones said, noting each theme is picked very soon after the end of the previous season. “We can probably concentrate on other types of things.”

Producer Raelynn Springer had similar thoughts on the postponement.

“We have the extra time now to kind of go into more details, think about things that we can reuse, how to simplify some things,” she said.

Springer, who also dances in the performances, spoke about how the cast has been handling the absence of the festival, which she said many dancers plan their summers around.

“It’s kind of a huge missing part,” she said. “When you’re not doing that activity, you’re missing out on the exercise, you’re missing out on the interaction, you’re missing out on a great community event.”

For her part, Springer said she deals with the festival’s absence by walking, “just to stay outside and moving around and not being in the house.”

Arnie Zimbelman, whose wife, Iris Zimbelman, founded the festival in 1987, said he could only remember two previous years when performances had to be canceled. Arnie said he misses going to dress rehearsals to learn the storyline ahead of time. He recalled that Iris, who died in 2016, had a different preference and “wanted to be surprised at that very first show.”

The human element of the Strauss Festival stood out as the thing the organizers prized the most.

Jones missed “the interaction with people and the excitement that comes with Strauss because I never get tired of watching this festival. I watch it every night when it’s on, and also the rehearsals and things. I just love it. I mean, it’s mesmerizing, really.”

Asked how community members can support the festival during its hiatus, organizers encouraged people to make donations, either monetary or in-kind — Springer said the festival is looking for old costumes and set materials like lumber and paint. Hedlund stressed the importance of word-of-mouth and keeping the community event on people’s minds.

The organizers expressed optimism about the prospects for the 2021 festival.

“I think next year’s going to be just incredible,” Hedlund said. “Now we’ve got an extra year to get even more prepared for it, so it’ll be spectacular next year. Look forward to it.”

To learn more about the Strauss Festival of Elk Grove, visit its website, www.StraussFestival.com.