Local Theaters And Creative Spaces Bring The Learning Home

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Theater , COVID-19

Teddy Yudain teaches puppetry via Facebook Live for Cape Playhouse.  JENNIFER SEXTON-RILEY PHOTO

The lights go down. You silence your phone, get any last minute coughs and squirms out of your system and settle in for an evening’s escape into the magic of theater, elbow to elbow with your fellow audience members. 

Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? 

If you are yearning for the shared experiences you used to enjoy at our many local theaters and creative spaces, take heart. Hardly missing a beat, as theaters have gone dark and classrooms have shuttered, new online versions of their offerings have become available to anyone with the desire and an internet connection. 

Nina Schuessler, producing artistic director at Cape Cod Theatre Company, home of Harwich Junior Theatre, became concerned in January, following the COVID-19 crisis as it unfolded in China.

“I had two J-1 students from China in 2017,” Shuessler explained. “As soon as it started showing up in Seattle I was very concerned. The earth is one giant organism, and what affects one place eventually has impact everywhere.”

With the support of CCTC/HJT’s board of directors, Schuessler made the difficult decision to suspend rehearsal for “Alice: A New Musical” on March 12, promising the disappointed cast and crew that the show would go on just as soon as safety allowed. What could continue, in a slightly different form, was the education aspect of the teaching theater. Director of Education and Outreach Tamara Harper embarked on a sharp learning curve, adapting classes to the video conference platform Zoom.

“Tammy has done an amazing  job with the teachers and with dance and  drama classes,” Schuessler said. “Today we planned a play reading Zoom class for youth with (director, designer and teacher) Jim Byrne, who is in New Orleans. Parents and kids are thrilled and very thankful. We are navigating an unknown future as best we can, and are praying for a vaccine.”

Visit capecodtheatrecompany.org for more information, or visit the theater’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/jester51. 

Tina Games, managing director of Eventide Theatre Company, had a similarly heartbreaking choice to make as the virus reached Cape Cod and changed everyone’s plans. 

“The hardest decision we had to make was canceling our late spring production, ‘The Robber Bridegroom,’” Games said. “When it became clear that we weren’t able to hold necessary rehearsals due to restrictions regarding social distancing, we knew that keeping our commitment to that production was not going to be realistic.”

Fortunately, Eventide still had something up its sleeve to look forward to. The organization’s two annual competitions were approaching completion: the New England Songwriting Competition and the Jeremiah Kaplan Playwriting Competition. This made it possible to shift gears and discover ways to recognize winners virtually, in place of the in-person performances that were scheduled. For the latter, an online reading of the winning play is now in the works via Zoom, with local actors playing the roles as directed by longtime Eventide director Kay Deford. As for the songwriting competition, Eventide will provide links to musical performances of their songs on its website. 

Another program in the works is Eventide’s brand-new Masterclass Theatre, a series of online classes, performances, and discussions related to the art of theater. They’ll feature local artists as teachers, presenters, and facilitators. A nominal fee will allow attendance of classes and events, with first offerings expected on the Eventide Theatre website in the next few days. In addition, a drop-in Shakespeare event launches today (Thursday, April 16), a virtual reading of “MacBeth” with local actors and theater lovers playing the roles. Attendance is free on a first come, first serve basis, and all are invited to join. Each week for six weeks, another Shakespeare play will be read from beginning to end, and anyone who is interested can sign up to read. For more information on all of Eventide’s offerings, visit EventideArts.org, contact info@EventideArts.org, or visit facebook.com/eventidetheatrecompany.

At the Academy Playhouse in Orleans, an online presence is also in development. Board of Trustees President Judy Hamer explained that an online dance class for young children is in the planning stage and will be launched within the month. 

“We are discussing plans for an online format for music and acting classes, as well,” Hamer said. “I have a teacher who is interested. The next step is to plan logistics and then go from there. I’m sure there are a few parents out there who’d like a little 45-minute dance fun for their children.” 

In accordance with social distancing precautions, virtual auditions will be accepted by director Kevin Quill for performances tentatively scheduled for late summer or early fall. For more information, visit academyplayhouse.org or the theater’s Facebook page at facebook.com/apacape. 

The Cape Cod Cultural Center in Yarmouth remains closed until further notice, with staff working safely from their homes. The Center has launched the Keep Cape Cod Creative initiative, offering online classes, art exhibits and other creative activities to keep Cape Codders involved in meaningful pursuits, from Zooming into the Kitchen with Joe! Featuring Chef Joe Cizynski, to online yoga with Less Yunits, Pastel Painting with Betsy Payne Cook, Happy Hour Painting with Odin Smith, and drawing with Craig Caldwell, all via Zoom. For more information, visit cultural-center.org or facebook.com/culturalcenterofcapecod. 

Now entering its 94th year, Cape Playhouse in Dennis adapted to the new normal of social distancing by offering free Facebook Live classes on March 26, and continues to offer them on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at 1 p.m. throughout the month of April. Producer Joe Grandy explained that with this series of classes, Cape Playhouse strives to show all aspects of the theater with programs led by industry professionals ranging in topics from acting to stage management, choreography, vocal technique, puppetry, sound design, and even college audition prep. To take part in the classes, visit facebook.com/thecapeplayhouse, and find more information about Cape Playhouse at capeplayhouse.com.

“We hope this approach will give students a full-spectrum look at all the amazing aspects that go into creating live theater and will inspire kids at home to be creative with their gifts,” Grandy said. “Our director of education, Michelle Kazanowski, has been busy lining up our special guests and we have some great ones in store.”

Grandy said the response to online classes from both instructors and the community has been heartwarming. Instructors love having something to focus on and be a part of during this uncertain time. 

“I think one important aspect of theater that this strange time has truly highlighted is what a collaborative art form it is,” Grandy said. “Sharing experiences and stories is a big part of building and connecting communities, and being apart right now I think really draws attention to the power of live performance, feeling the energy not only from the stage, but also of the fellow audience members. While we are apart now, we are very grateful that we at least have an outlet to feel some social connection, even at a distance. We look forward to the art that this time will inspire, and the day we can share it together again.”

The lights go down. You silence your phone, get any last minute coughs and squirms out of your system and settle in for an evening’s escape into the magic of theater, elbow to elbow with your fellow audience members.
Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
If you are yearning for the shared experiences you used to enjoy at our many local theaters and creative spaces, take heart. Hardly missing a beat, as theaters have gone dark and classrooms have shuttered, new online versions of their offerings have become available to anyone with the desire and an internet connection.
Nina Schuessler, producing artistic director at Cape Cod Theatre Company, home of Harwich Junior Theatre, became concerned in January, following the COVID-19 crisis as it unfolded in China.

I had two J-1 students from China in 2017,” Shuessler explained. “As soon as it started showing up in Seattle I was very concerned. The earth is one giant organism, and what affects one place eventually has impact everywhere.”

With the support of CCTC/HJT’s board of directors, Schuessler made the difficult decision to suspend rehearsal for “Alice: A New Musical” on March 12, promising the disappointed cast and crew that the show would go on just as soon as safety allowed. What could continue, in a slightly different form, was the education aspect of the teaching theater. Director of Education and Outreach Tamara Harper embarked on a sharp learning curve, adapting classes to the video conference platform Zoom.

Tammy has done an amazing job with the teachers and with dance and drama classes,” Schuessler said. “Today we planned a play reading Zoom class for youth with (director, designer and teacher) Jim Byrne, who is in New Orleans. Parents and kids are thrilled and very thankful. We are navigating an unknown future as best we can, and are praying for a vaccine.”

Visit capecodtheatrecompany.org for more information, or visit the theater’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/jester51.
Tina Games, managing director of Eventide Theatre Company, had a similarly heartbreaking choice to make as the virus reached Cape Cod and changed everyone’s plans.
“The hardest decision we had to make was canceling our late spring production, ‘The Robber Bridegroom,’” Games said. “When it became clear that we weren’t able to hold necessary rehearsals due to restrictions regarding social distancing, we knew that keeping our commitment to that production was not going to be realistic.”
Fortunately, Eventide still had something up its sleeve to look forward to. The organization’s two annual competitions were approaching completion: the New England Songwriting Competition and the Jeremiah Kaplan Playwriting Competition. This made it possible to shift gears and discover ways to recognize winners virtually, in place of the in-person performances that were scheduled. For the latter, an online reading of the winning play is now in the works via Zoom, with local actors playing the roles as directed by longtime Eventide director Kay Deford. As for the songwriting competition, Eventide will provide links to musical performances of their songs on its website.
Another program in the works is Eventide’s brand-new Masterclass Theatre, a series of online classes, performances, and discussions related to the art of theater. They’ll feature local artists as teachers, presenters, and facilitators. A nominal fee will allow attendance of classes and events, with first offerings expected on the Eventide Theatre website in the next few days. In addition, a drop-in Shakespeare event launches today (Thursday, April 16), a virtual reading of “MacBeth” with local actors and theater lovers playing the roles. Attendance is free on a first come, first serve basis, and all are invited to join. Each week for six weeks, another Shakespeare play will be read from beginning to end, and anyone who is interested can sign up to read. For more information on all of Eventide’s offerings, visit EventideArts.org, contact info@EventideArts.org, or visit facebook.com/eventidetheatrecompany.
At the Academy Playhouse in Orleans, an online presence is also in development. Board of Trustees President Judy Hamer explained that an online dance class for young children is in the planning stage and will be launched within the month.
“We are discussing plans for an online format for music and acting classes, as well,” Hamer said. “I have a teacher who is interested. The next step is to plan logistics and then go from there. I’m sure there are a few parents out there who’d like a little 45-minute dance fun for their children.”
In accordance with social distancing precautions, virtual auditions will be accepted by director Kevin Quill for performances tentatively scheduled for late summer or early fall. For more information, visit academyplayhouse.org or the theater’s Facebook page at facebook.com/apacape.
The Cape Cod Cultural Center in Yarmouth remains closed until further notice, with staff working safely from their homes. The Center has launched the Keep Cape Cod Creative initiative, offering online classes, art exhibits and other creative activities to keep Cape Codders involved in meaningful pursuits, from Zooming into the Kitchen with Joe! Featuring Chef Joe Cizynski, to online yoga with Less Yunits, Pastel Painting with Betsy Payne Cook, Happy Hour Painting with Odin Smith, and drawing with Craig Caldwell, all via Zoom. For more information, visit cultural-center.org or facebook.com/culturalcenterofcapecod.
Now entering its 94th year, Cape Playhouse in Dennis adapted to the new normal of social distancing by offering free Facebook Live classes on March 26, and continues to offer them on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at 1 p.m. throughout the month of April. Producer Joe Grandy
explained that with this series of classes, Cape Playhouse strives to show all aspects of the theater with programs led by industry professionals ranging in topics from acting to stage management, choreography, vocal technique, puppetry, sound design, and even college audition prep. To take part in the classes, visit facebook.com/thecapeplayhouse, and find more information about Cape Playhouse at capeplayhouse.com.
“We hope this approach will give students a full-spectrum look at all the amazing aspects that go into creating live theater and will inspire kids at home to be creative with their gifts,” Grandy said. “Our director of education, Michelle Kazanowski, has been busy lining up our special guests and we have some great ones in store.”
Grandy said the response to online classes from both instructors and the community has been heartwarming. Instructors love having something to focus on and be a part of during this uncertain time.
“I think one important aspect of theater that this strange time has truly highlighted is what a collaborative art form it is,” Grandy said. “Sharing experiences and stories is a big part of building and connecting communities, and being apart right now I think really draws attention to the power of live performance, feeling the energy not only from the stage, but also of the fellow audience members. While we are apart now, we are very grateful that we at least have an outlet to feel some social connection, even at a distance. We look forward to the art that this time will inspire, and the day we can share it together again.”