STOCKBRIDGE — Going out on a first date can be difficult enough, but try doing it during a pandemic.
"You have to get really creative; it's a whole other gauntlet," said Ilana Ransom Toeplitz, a New York-based musical theater director and choreographer who is currently renting a house in Richmond.
Ransom Toeplitz is currently testing the dating Petri dish in this time of COVID-19 by meeting people online. First, she said, she goes on virtual video dates with a person. Then, if she feels they are compatible and have common social distancing practices, they arrange to meet in person. But, the next challenge, where?
"All open-air spaces are great — which is why [me and my family are] in the Berkshires in the summer — a park bench in a town square, and hikes are another good option; berry picking is another good one," she said. "And always a picnic."
Recently, Ransom Toeplitz went on a second date with someone at Naumkeag's new Date Night series, a socially-distant evening on the historic property that offers a safe space to enjoy a drink, live music and a sunset.
"It was a last-minute change in plans, but I thought it was such a good idea," she said of the event. "You have open air, and the space feels more private. And there's an idyllic view and the freedom to roam, you just have to remember your mask. I absolutely will go back."
In desperate need of my own date night, my husband and I attended Naumkeag's new COVID-friendly date night series last week. For $25 per person (admission comes with a choice of beer or wine) we were allowed on the grounds from 7 to 9 p.m. to enjoy a secluded spot on the property, with beautiful live background music while watching the sunset. We brought our own picnic dinner and drinks, as well, which is not only welcomed but encouraged.
Upon checking in, guests (who are required to wear masks whenever they are not at their designated spot) are led to either a spot in the grass where you can set up a blanket or chairs, or a reserved table if you request it. We were given a table, and a bouquet of fresh wildflowers from the property (which can be purchased for $25). Local musician Charlie Tokarz played the flute and saxophone throughout the evening from his own secluded spot on the lawn.
My husband and I actually talked. Like, had a conversation. We also held hands and sat in silence for long stretches while taking in the setting sun. It was calm, peaceful and felt completely safe and anything but normal in the best way possible.
If you're like me, and most residents of Berkshire County, you've experienced Naumkeag during Winter Lights, The Incredible Pumpkin Show, or the Daffodil Festival. While all fun, wonderful events, they are usually mobbed (proving the popularity of these great ideas for the property!). But on these date nights, only 50 people are allowed to attend, according to Carol Bosco Baumann, engagement manager at the property. This number is not only perfect for social distancing, but also for providing an intimate experience at the grounds that you would never get in the height of a "normal" tourist-filled summer.
According to Bosco Baumann, they have had anniversary celebrations, first dates and even a woman who came by herself with a book and just enjoyed the silence (note: that will be me the next time I go, sorry hubs!)
"One woman hadn't been out in months, was a first responder (in healthcare) — her friends convinced her to come to Naumkeag so they could celebrate her birthday safely," Bosco Baumann said.