That crazy year of 2020 kind of threw everything arts and culture-related into a tailspin, so 2021 looks to be a year of recovery and reinvention.

Sure, 2020 was spectacularly awful. Everyone seems to anticipate that 2021 will be better. But we’ll still have a lot of the same problems: the coronavirus pandemic, economic issues, not being able to gather in public for a while, not being able to see live shows or exhibits.

Most of the performing and visual arts organizations and presenters in Orange County — as well as many regions of the country — are on hold, on standstill or standby. They are waiting for the word from their respective state and local governments to proceed and reopen — and to get back to some sense of normalcy and daily creative activity.

Folks are optimistic that by summer or fall 2021, we’ll be able to attend concerts, performances and art exhibitions again.

We’ll just have to see. In the meantime, the pandemic has had a severely injurious — yet hopefully not deadly — impact on most local arts organizations and artists. A lot of planning has been going on to deal with 2020 and 2021.

Our trusty contributors to Voice of OC’s arts and culture section have offered their voices, and their expert opinions, on what’s going to be worth seeing, hearing, tasting and experiencing in 2021.

Cross our fingers that things will get better. They will get better, right? Right?!?

Happy New Year everybody.


Heading into the new year, the outlook for the return of live theater productions is as unclear as when the curtain fell on them in mid-March.  Most producing entities, including South Coast Repertory, have yet to announce even tentative plans and even those that have aren’t realistically hoping for live audiences before April.

But here’s a look at a few confirmed productions or projects from local theater entities that could serve as the opening salvos in a return to theatrical normalcy by the summer. – Joel Beers

The Covid Monologues

Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble
Sometime in spring

Less of a producing entity than a collective dedicated to using theater to empower the Latinx community, particularly Latinas, the Santa Ana-based BFLTE is currently taking submissions for an initiative it is undertaking with the Protest Plays Project. Through March 1, people can submit a one-page monologue which celebrates and memorializes someone who has died from COVID-19. The producing partners will then take selected pieces and perform them sometime in the spring, as well as offer the entire collection to theater companies as a living theater project.

The Story of My Life” and “Sweat

Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills

The Chance has been as active as any OC theater since the lights dimmed, offering everything from virtual intensive workshops on designing and directing to continuing its community outreach programs and even creating a couple of web series designed to keep the theater and its audience base connected. But outside of a streaming holiday cabaret show running through Jan. 10 and offered free to subscribers, there’s been nothing in the way of actual theater.

According to artistic director Oanh Nguyen, that will change in April. The Chance has a five-show 2021 season penciled in beginning in April and running through December. And even if still constrained by limited to no occupancy, the company has also secured streaming rights to each play. The season is projected to begin in April with “The Story of My Life,” a two-person musical that follows the lifelong friendship of two men.

But it’s the next show, planned for May and June, that could herald the return of serious drama to a local stage. It’s Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama which examines the racial and economic fissures in a dying Pennsylvania factory town, fissures that tear the working class residents apart, but also help explain some of the appeal for many of a certain president.

“Comic Reading”

The Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton

One of the few theaters to mount a live play over the past nine months (a limited capacity “Night of the Living Dead” around Halloween), the Maverick, which generally stages plays with some kind of cinematic tie-in, delves into the Marvel Universe with this one: a staged reading of the late 1960s comic book arc that inspired one of the first Spider-Man movies. But it’s not a normal staged reading. Actors will be on stage, separated if necessary, by a curtain or a Plexiglas shield, and the reading will include sound effects and scanned images from the actual comics projected on the back of the stage, according to artistic director Brian Newell. If it sounds a bit outside the boundaries of typical theatrical fare, keep in mind that this is the theater that pulled off a live-action version of the original “King Kong” movie in 2019.

“Mean Girls” is scheduled as the first Broadway show for the 2021-2022 season. From left, Erika Henningsen, Ashley Park, Taylor Louderman and Kate Rockwell from the original Broadway cast.

Mean Girls” Opens Segerstrom’s Broadway Series

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa
Starting Oct. 26

Patti Lupone may be American theater royalty,  but even her streaming concert at the Segerstrom Center in October, broadcast from an empty New York theater, probably didn’t offset the disappointment of big-name musical fans who saw shows like “Chicago” and “Les Misérables” canceled due to the coronavirus.

OC will have to wait another nine months before a touring Broadway production comes to town, but when it finally does, it will be the first of seven in nine months. The recently announced Broadway season appears to be the first scheduled by the center with ticket sales for indoor performances. Live performances outdoors on the Argyros Plaza resumed in November 2020. According to center president Casey Reitz, “Show producers and our presenting colleagues across the country feel strongly the promise of effective COVID-19 vaccines will make it safe for companies to tour safely and audiences to return to theaters to enjoy their favorite shows once again.”

Tina Fey’s musical, “Mean Girls” (Oct. 26-Nov. 7), based on the screenplay she wrote for the 2002 film, will be the only show to play in 2021. The rest are booked for 2022.

The rest of the series is scheduled for 2022 starting with two iconic shows, “My Fair Lady” (Jan. 11-23, 2022) and “Wicked” (Feb.9-March 6, 2022), last seen at the center in 2013.  And then it’s the award winning (including 10 Tony Awards) “The Band’s Visit” (March 22-April 3, 2022), a minimalistic musical that is huge in heart.

The rest of the season includes two familiar stories retooled as musicals, “Tootsie” (May 31-June 12, 2022), and “Pretty Woman the Musical” (July 5-17, 2022). The season ends with the show that dominated the 2019 Tony Awards, Anais Mitchell’s “Hadestown” (Aug.9-Aug. 21, 2022), a play set in a New Orleans by way of the Great Depression, based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.


Orange County dance companies are finding ways to move past the pandemic and are eagerly preparing to deliver performances in 2021. While everyone is factoring in some flexibility about time and place, several companies are hopeful for in-person, live shows in the new year. – Kaitlin Wright

Swan Lake

Festival Ballet Theatre at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine
7 p.m. March 20, 2 p.m. March 21

Set to an unforgettable score by Tchaikovsky, this classic from 1877 tells the story of a princess that is captured by a sorcerer and placed under a spell that turns her into a swan by day. Odette the Swan Queen returns to human form at night and falls in love with a young Prince Siegfried. With choreography by artistic director Salwa Rizkalla, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, the production by Festival Ballet will welcome guest artist Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell in the lead roles. “Swan Lake’s” spectacular beauty, power and grace remind us all of the transformative power of love.

Dancers from Alan Hinlein’s “Arnalds Studies”, created as a part of the National Choreographer’s Initiative.

NCI Discovery

National Choreographer’s Initiative at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine
July 24

Developed to promote the creation and production of new professional dance works, National Choreographer’s Initiative (NCI) presents a works-in-progress showcase of choreography by artists from across the United States. See dance works in their earliest forms, before they become finished productions performed by companies across the country and world. Since NCI began in 2004, artistic director Molly Lynch has hosted over 60 choreographers and over 130 dancers from around the country to engage in the creative process.

“grounded” and Other Works

Backhausdance at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton

Inspired by the recently-released dance film, “grounded,” Backhausdance will present a live version of the site-specific work that links movement with the outdoors. Follow along the trails and pathways of each of the company’s 10 dancers as they express and interpret their individual spaces through solos. This work will be accompanied by to-be-revealed new works and it is anticipated that the dancers will be joined by a live music ensemble Block x Block. The performance is tentatively set for April at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center with details to be confirmed.

Visual Arts

Art should be an in-person, lived, three-dimensional experience.

But it can’t be in this pandemic. Art we don’t reside with in our homes has to be on the screen — which is a limited, two-dimensional space.

You can go to a private commercial art gallery under the current restrictions. But you can’t go to a public art museum or aquarium right now, according to stay-at-home orders. Does that make any sense?

Most area museums have already implemented elaborate health and safety precautions. However, when Orange County returned to the purple tier and the stay-at-home order came down, most museums’ doors in California were shuttered.

In about three weeks, the latest stay-at-home orders are expected to expire, but no word has been said recently about possible extensions or movement from tier-to-tier in the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

Oh well, we’re living in unprecedented, life-or-death circumstances. So I guess 2D will have to do for now, until we get back to the 3D world.

Here are a few OC exhibitions and events you can experience online and, eventually, in person some day. – Richard Chang

Chocolate Week

Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St, Santa Ana
Jan. 26-31

The Bowers Museum is hosting its first-ever Chocolate Week, kicking off Tuesday, Jan. 26. Though this may qualify more as a food event than a visual art one, the Bowers is a visual and cultural art institution, and nearly everything online has a significant visual component these days.

Chocolate Week will feature daily virtual programs, including educational videos presented by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association; a lecture by Lee Theisen, a professor at UCLA who’s known as the “Chocolate Guru”; a free Virtual Festival of Chocolate; and a pair of virtual chocolate tastings.

Most events are free; a couple require tickets; one is for Bowers members only. The chocolate tasting on Jan. 31 requires advance purchase of tickets ($60 general, $50 for members) and curbside pickup of chocolates at the Bowers Museum on Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. to noon.

California Cool Art Auction and “Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns

Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
Jan. 11-Feb. 6, 2021

Laguna Art Museum will present its 39th annual art auction from Jan. 11-Feb. 6, with works by more than 100 of California’s best-collected artists. The museum-curated auction will be conducted online via Artsy, and will feature special virtual content from the museum.

The auction lots will be on view inside the museum from Jan. 11-Feb. 6, contingent upon the lifting of stay-at-home orders and safe reopening guidelines from the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

Artists will include Lita Albuquerque, Sandra Jones Campbell, Mark Chamberlain, Laddie John Dill, Jorg Dubin, Kaori Fukuyama, Jimi Gleason, G. Ray Kerciu, Peter Krasnow, Roger Kuntz, Bret Price, Ed Ruscha, Adam Silverman, Bradford Salamon, Carmen Salazar and Roger Weik.

Proceeds will support the museum’s mission of collecting and preserving California art, presenting exhibitions and enhancing art education.

Clown and Circle,” a 2015 oil on board by Wayne Thiebaud. On view at Laguna Art Museum through April 4.

Also at Laguna Art Museum is “Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns,” running through April 4. Thiebaud is a celebrated and popular California artist who is known for his colorful, Pop Art-inspired works depicting everyday objects such as pies, paint cans, ice cream cones and pastries. This exhibition focuses on a series of recent works first unveiled in December 2019. Over the past seven years, Thiebaud has made dozens of paintings, drawings and etchings of clowns. A selection of the 46 works in the exhibit is currently on view via the museum’s website. When folks are allowed back in museums, the show will reopen to the public with pandemic safety guidelines in place.

“Fresh Start,” Jan. 2-Feb. 28; “Car Culture,” Feb. 6-March 20

Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana

Who doesn’t want a “Fresh Start” in the new year? Orange County’s own artist-run cooperative arts center will feature works by OCCCA members to kick off 2021. Participating artists will include: Evalyn J. Alu, Stephen Anderson, Annie Clavel, Jeffrey Frisch, Tom Lamb, Robin Repp, Kurt Weston, Carolyn Yarnell and others.

“Back in Town,” a photograph by Mila Reynaud. “Car Culture” is on view at OCCCA Feb. 6-March 20.

The works will be posted online, and an artists’ talk will occur via Zoom at 7 p.m. Jan. 2. The Zoom link is here. Check the OCCCA website for the meeting ID and passcode.

In February, OCCCA will present “Car Culture.” The show will open Feb. 6 and run through March 20. An artists’ reception is planned for Feb. 6. Check OCCCA’s website to see if it will be virtual or in person.

Made in California

Brea Art Gallery
April 24-June 18, 2021

The city of Brea Art Gallery’s “Made in California” show has become a perennial favorite for local art fans and artists. Last year’s group exhibition was the 35th annual, with 99 works by 91 artists.

An installation view of “Made in California” artist Perin Mahler. The group exhibition will return to Brea Art Gallery, April 24-June 18, 2021. Image courtesy of Brea Art Gallery.

This year’s will be the 36th annual, and it should draw from all areas of California, especially Orange County and Southern California. It’s worth checking out, assuming we’ll be able to check out exhibitions by April or perhaps June. Regardless, there’s bound to be an online presentation of this show, as there is for the 2020 and 2019 editions on the gallery’s website.

Orange County Museum of Art

OCMAExpand, 1661 W Sunflower Ave, Santa Ana

Things are a little spotty on the calendar for OCMA right now. We are expecting to see the fifth season at OCMA Expand-Santa Ana in its temporary location across the street from South Coast Plaza. OCMA is eventually moving to its new location at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The $75 million, Thom Mayne and Morphosis-designed structure was scheduled to open in 2021, but is now slated for 2022.

A handful of solo shows from season four are scheduled to continue into 2021. Shows on the schedule now include:

  • “Notions of Home: Selections from the Collection, ” opening Jan. 23.
  • “The Harpist in the Ogre’s Mind,” opening spring 2021.

OCMA is also looking for a new director and CEO, so things are still a little up in the air for the county’s namesake art museum.

Great Park Gallery, Palm Court Arts Complex

Orange County Great Park, 8000 Great Park Blvd., Irvine

While Irvine city-run galleries remain closed, the Great Park arts staff has created an online video walkthrough of its current exhibition. “Suburban Ecologies” showcases large-scale panoramic photography, video and sculpture by artist Jesse Colin Jackson. A Canadian artist now based in Southern California, Jackson’s work has been the subject of several national and international exhibitions. The video walkthrough is available at

Mission Online Guided Tour

Mission San Juan Capistrano, 26801 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano

The Mission San Juan Capistrano should not be closed. It has outdoor gardens, and social distancing is easy at the mission, inside and out. This historic institution should be open — it’s a cultural landmark, a tourist destination, a place where all the health and safety measures can be diligently followed, and a resource for local K-12 students.

Even during the tighter “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” restrictions, the mission gardens and outdoor areas were open for much of 2020.

A view of the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s outdoor gardens.

Nevertheless, the Mission SJC is offering a new, live, online guided tour with an expert mission guide. S/he will walk you through the grounds, including the gardens, Serra Chapel and the Ruins of the Great Stone Church. You can learn about the cultural traditions of the Acjachemen people. For a list of dates and times to book, call (949) 234-1306.

Oddly enough, online booking is currently not available. But it should be available in a week or so, according to a Mission employee.


The musical pickings are slim at the moment, and overwhelmingly virtual. But the concert calendar is also in flux, as ensembles wait for vaccines to circulate and concert protocols to be established. There will almost certainly be more performances announced soon, probably even live ones. In the meantime, here are three events worthy of your attention here in OC; but, remember, in a virtual world, you aren’t limited to the county. – Timothy Mangan

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet with Wynton Marsalis

Julianne and George Argyros Plaza, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa
4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 26

Even in a season not dominated by virtual events, this concert would be a standout. The prodigious trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brings six members of his sizzling Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for an afternoon and evening of live music at the outdoor Argyros Plaza. Audience members purchase tickets for their own “pods,” each socially distanced from neighboring pods. Other COVID protocols will also be followed, so this looks like a safe bet as well as a sure one.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

Philharmonic Society of Orange County
Virtual performance, streaming at 8 p.m., April 24

As part of the Philharmonic Society’s ambitious calendar of streamed events, French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet arrives to perform a central work in the canon, the complete Préludes (Books 1 and 2) of Claude Debussy. Thibuadet has long been justly admired in this repertoire, which he delivers with clear-eyed precision and theatrical flair. Tickets are $20.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss

Philharmonic Society of Orange County
Virtual performance, streaming at 8 p.m., June 14

Two bright young stars on the classical scene team up for an evening of chamber music. The Italian-German Hadelich owns one of the most potent techniques of any violinist today and uses it purposefully. American pianist Weiss is in demand as soloist with the major orchestras in North America. Their violin-centric program includes works by Beethoven, Debussy and Ysaye, and is capped by John Adams’ rambunctious Road Movies.


Holidays and annual cultural milestones don’t disappear just because we are living through a pandemic.  Here are a few events for the beginning of the year that Orange County residents can safely celebrate as we look ahead into 2021. – Kim Pham

Tu B’shevat, or Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot

Jan. 27-28 (sundown to sundown)
Tu B’shevat, also called Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot, is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. The holiday is celebrated to recognize “the New Year of the Trees,” making it tradition to plant a tree and/or eat the seven species of Israel on this day: pomegranates, figs, dates, grapes, olives, wheat and barley. Almond trees in Israel usually flower around this holiday. As a result, people often observe the beginning of spring in Israel through the planting of trees or consumption of dried fruits and nuts, according to the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County (JCCOC) in Irvine. More information on how to celebrate this holiday, especially from a distance, could be found here. Folks can also follow JCCOC on Instagram to stay connected with any potential online events they may host as the holiday draws near.

Black History Month

The month of February

February marks Black History Month in the United States and Canada since 1976. This month is dedicated to remembering and celebrating the contributions of the African diaspora. The Orange County Heritage Council (OCHC) traditionally hosts a parade and festival at the beginning of February to honor Black History month. Due to the pandemic’s social distancing requirements, the council is opting for a virtual celebration in 2021, according to the OCHC website. Check here to stay updated on how it is planning to observe the Black History Parade and Unity Festival remotely.

Parade participants at the 2020 Black History Parade in Anaheim.

Lunar New Year

Feb. 12

Lunar New Year is one of the most sacred and celebrated of all traditional Chinese holidays. It is observed around this time in other parts of Asia, and globally in areas containing Asian communities — usually from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Mongolia. 2021 marks the year of the ox in the zodiac calendar, which represents diligence, persistence and honesty. Even though many Lunar New Year celebrations have been postponed, such as the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations’ annual Tet Festival at the OC fairgrounds, people can still join in on the festivities through participating in any online event of their choosing, which doesn’t have any bounds to distance. The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, for example, is hosting a Virtual Chinese New Year Festival on Facebook livestream, featuring performing artists, art making and food. The event begins at 11 a.m. on Feb. 28.

Happy Buddah is a character performing with the Vietnamese Lion Dance during the 2020 Tet Parage in Garden Grove.

Lantern Festival

Feb. 26

The Chinese Lantern Festival, also referred to as the Spring Festival, marks the end of the Chinese New Year. It lands on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which is Feb. 26 in 2021. Southern California has celebrated this holiday in the past through various lantern lighting or viewing events, such as the Hanart Chinese Lantern Festival at the Fairplex in Pomona 2018-2020. Even though the pandemic forces us to limit large gatherings this year, Orange County residents can still buy lanterns from their local Asian market, such as the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster, and indulge in the lantern lighting traditions from home.

Nowruz, Persian New Year

March 21 – 22

The Persian New Year, Nowruz, is a holiday about celebration, renewal and the welcoming of spring. Held annually on the spring equinox, 2020’s Nowruz celebrations were much more muted as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus forced people to trade public gatherings for intimate blessings. The Iranian American Community Group in Irvine has canceled its annual Festival of Nowruz for 2021. The Pacific Symphony has also announced that it will be postponing its annual Nowruz celebration concert, originally scheduled for March 27. However, as its live performances get pushed back further, the Pacific Symphony plans on maintaining its digital content. Check the website to stay updated on potential virtual performances the symphony may stream.

Pacific Symphony’s Nowruz concert extends beyond the concert hall. In past years, dancers entertained guests in the lobby before the concert.


The dining landscape is forever changed due to the series of unfortunate events that was 2020. As restaurateurs and chefs wait for the cue to allow indoor/outdoor dining once again, I look forward to three things: construction, collaborations, and creative events. Here’s a taste of what’s in the works for 2021 – Anne Marie Panoringan

Bosscat Kitchen & Libations Expansion 

2021 is the year of the Bosscat, as its Old Towne Orange project nears completion. In addition, the Newport Beach flagship site is relocating down the street into a former Il Fornaio off Von Karman. Bigger patio = bigger brunch service!

(More) Side Hustles and Collaborations

From charcuterie pizza boxes, banana pudding jars and bone marrow via Instagram DMs to bartenders crafting mask chains, specialty products with creative vibes came to the forefront last year. Add productive pairings to this list, such as chef Jhong Lee of Fountain Valley’s Pastars making a custom dumpling for January benefiting L.A. Firefighters, available through Go Go Gyoza delivery service. I’m waiting for the opening of Artisan by 7 Leaves and Crema Bakery, a brick-and-mortar collaboration at the corner of Brookhurst and Garfield, also in Fountain Valley.

Creative Food Events

Zoom and Facebook Live continue to be unofficial socially-distanced event portals, as Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical (a savory blend of food and theater) debuts on New Year’s Day. Benefiting The Actors Fund, watch the teaming of social media brainpower and Broadway’s brightest stars pay homage to Disney’s delicious flick. In addition, virtual fundraising, like the recent Cookies & Cocktails for Charity event by Stowaway Tiki benefiting children in Yemen will continue to connect communities with worthy causes for the foreseeable future.

Paradise Dynasty dining room coming to Collage Culinary Experience inside Bloomingdale’s.

Collage Culinary Experience 

The upcoming food hall within Bloomingdale’s Costa Mesa is coming in hot with more details (in addition to the ones mentioned in December). The waffle-tastic OC favorite Bruxie will be planting roots, as well as a brand new eggy sandwich concept named Egg LXIII. The high-brow eatery will serve both scrambled and egg salad versions themed after metropolitan cities. On deck for summer are a duo of concepts from Paradise Group Singapore. Savory shrimp and creamy tonkotsu broth options await diners at Le Shrimp Ramen downstairs, while Paradise Dynasty is a luxe experience for feasting on xiao long bao (soup dumplings) in a range of hues.

Harper Barbecue

Lastly, plans are slated for summer as Drew Brahs, part of the team that welded custom, offset smokers for notorious ’que joints, focuses on his future restaurant in the neighborhood of Eastside Costa Mesa. Once a metal machine shop in the ’40s, this converted gas station will be the home of Central Texas-style brisket, ribs and his “Coastal Smokehouse” theme of smoked fish and game. If you build it, they will come, Drew.

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