Local Theaters Plan For An Unusual Summer

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Theater

Drop-in participants enjoy a reading of “Henry V” by William Shakespeare hosted by Eventide Theatre Company via Zoom on Eventide’s Facebook page.  

As summer approaches, local theaters have had big decisions to make.

Many local performance venues have gracefully adjusted to the social distancing demands of COVID-19 to provide remote classes, readings and auditions via online platforms like Facebook Live and Zoom. However, there is a big difference between these types of interactions and the typical theater’s summer schedule of rehearsals and performances to packed audiences. Faced with government-mandated limits on gatherings and social distancing protocols, what will the summer theater season look like?

Nina Schuessler, producing artistic director at Cape Cod Theatre Company, home of Harwich Junior Theatre, explained that CCTC/HJT’s productions are postponed until the health and safety of performers and audiences can be ensured, but the theater continues to offer live online theater and dance classes for students of all ages.

“We will soon be accepting registrations for our next four-week session of classes and are actively planning offerings for the summer,” Schuessler said.

CCTC/HJT will continue its online presence with the HJT Alum Virtual Cabaret on Friday, May 22 at 7 p.m. via Facebook Live. HJT alumna, board member and professional actress Alison Mahoney will share the virtual stage with her 1990s HJT alumni cohort of professional actors including Adam Harrington, Halcyone Hurst, Trish LaRose, Sarah Lewis, Scott Mebus, Ethan Paulini, Kate Pazakis and Chris Sidoli, all of whom have successful professional careers as actors. They will perform songs that are meaningful to their own careers and to spread hope during these challenging times.  A special appearance will be made by alum Seth Doane, CBS News Correspondent in Rome, who overcame the COVID-19 virus while living in Italy.  The HJT Virtual Cabaret will be streamed on Facebook Live on the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, Inc. Facebook page on May 22 at 7 p.m. Visit capecodtheatrecompany.org for more information, or visit the theater’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/jester51. 

Meanwhile, the Eventide Theater Company in Dennis was forced to make the difficult decision to cancel its planned season opener, “The Robber Bridegroom.”

“We canceled with the intention of bringing it to a future season, probably 2022,” said managing director Tina Games. “At this stage, we do intend to keep moving forward with our two fall productions, 'Impossible' and 'The Boys in the Band,' and we’re considering ways we can offer them should social distancing restrictions still be in place.”

For now, Eventide’s focus remains on the theater’s weekly online drop-in Shakespeare readings and its upcoming 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 soon. For more information on all of Eventide’s offerings, visit EventideArts.org, contact info@EventideArts.org, or visit facebook.com/eventidetheatrecompany.

Academy of Performing Arts Board of Trustees President Judy Hamer took to the internet on May 12 with a video announcement explaining the plan to postpone the production of “Newsies” until summer 2021 and the intention to open an in-person production of “Heathers” in August if the governor’s reopening schedule allows.

“With a cast of 45, and a small arena theater, we didn’t think ‘Newsies’ would be a safe play to do anytime soon (for cast or audience),” Hamer explained. “We have postponed our rights for ‘Newsies’ until next summer. ‘Heathers’ is a cast of about 18, and if the governor opens things up we are considering doing it in August with limited seating and many protective measures in place. The play is already cast (we auditioned in March – some in-person before the lockdown and others virtually afterwards), and they have already begun to rehearse virtually.  We all know that it’s possible that this won’t be able to go forward.”

The Academy Playhouse will also produce an online musical, “The Big One-Oh,” via Zoom. This gives many of the young cast who were disappointed by the postponement of “Newsies” an opportunity to apply their talent in a safe, online setting. Kevin Quill and JD Williams will be directing/music directing, with Sophie Friend choreographing and Katherine Hilliar stage managing.

“We had virtual auditions already, will be casting tomorrow, and starting to rehearse in about a week.  It’s only a 20-minute play, so as a first venture, it shouldn’t be too daunting,” Hamer said. “Kevin Quill is also hosting Mad Lib Mondays, in which he improvises songs as people join in a chat via Facebook Live. He is also teaching an online audition/monologue class and Sophie Friend is teaching a dance class for kids.  We are hoping to start an acting class for kids and vocal coaching online.  All of these classes are free.”

For more information, visit academyplayhouse.org or the theater’s Facebook page at facebook.com/apacape. 

At Cape Playhouse, producer Joe Grandy explained that while the theater has postponed its 2020 season, it will present the same line-up of productions in 2021, including a new September edition of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which previously played the Cape Playhouse stage to rave reviews, delighting audiences.

“Currently, we are hard at work figuring out how best to utilize what we have to continue as a major resource for the community,” Grandy said. “In addition to our free Facebook Live classes we began this spring for students at home, we also were able to use our ticketing service to collect donations for our local heroes, Cape Cod Healthcare's Response to COVID-19. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for this drive and are now discussing ways we may be able to help local restaurants and businesses, all hit hard in this crisis.”

With a 22-acre campus at The Cape Cod Center for the Arts, Cape Playhouse representatives are working with the Cape Cod Museum of Art and Cape Cinema to build a partnership to create safe, outdoor activities in July and August, “the likes of which we have never done before,” Grandy said.

“We are hopeful these will be able to inspire and support the community, and maintain our campus as a place where memories can be made for families and friends,” Grandy said. “We look forward to the days when we can, once again, share the power of live performance together.”

To take part in Cape Playhouse’s classes, visit facebook.com/thecapeplayhouse, and find more information about Cape Playhouse at capeplayhouse.com.

Both the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater and the Harbor Stage Company have canceled their 2020 seasons.