After A Challenging Year, Local Theaters Look Ahead

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Rehearsal for "Peter Pan" at Harwich Junior Theatre last year. FILE PHOTO

A year ago, local theaters had to face the same challenges the rest of us did, as COVID-19 arrived and ran roughshod over plans for summer seasons, auditions, events and opening nights. At that time, tough choices had to be made. Auditions were postponed, then canceled. Seasons were suddenly filled with question marks instead of dates. Some venues decided to experiment with virtual versions of their planned offerings, while others came up with entirely new ideas to reach out to remote audiences.
One year later, as vaccinations are underway and reopening phases continue to slowly reintroduce us to life outside the four walls of our homes, local theaters are once again faced with decisions. What are their plans, 12 months after the pandemic darkened stages and sent everyone home?
Last year
Nina Schuessler, producing artistic director at Cape Cod Theatre Company, home of Harwich Junior Theatre, made the difficult decision to suspend rehearsal for “Alice: A New Musical” last 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 adapted classes to Zoom, a format with which many have become extremely familiar in the last 12 months.

Tammy has done an amazing job with the teachers and with dance and drama classes,” Schuessler said at the time. “We are navigating an unknown future as best we can, and are praying for a vaccine.”

A year later, Schuessler said she is hoping for the approval of CCTC/HJT's new outdoor stage this summer with seating for 50 people who can be safely socially distanced. Hopes are high that the theater's 70th season may be celebrated this summer with the community.
“We plan on presenting a new version of '
Sleeping Beauty,' a revival of a popular musical still to be announced; 'The Secret Garden;' and a revival of our hit production of 'Doubt,'” Schuessler said, “plus the Junior Players will present 'Peter Rabbit and Me' by Aurand Harris.”

This spring CCTC/HJT will continue to work in partnership with J Hagenbuckle and Cape Noir Radio Theatre on WOMR. The theater will also livestream a three-person play called “Open Mic Night” by Justin Jay Gray, directed by Matt Kohler; a short play called “Merry Go Round” by Susan Kosoff; and excerpts will be streamed from the long-awaited “Alice: A New Musical.” Dates will be announced. CCTC/HJT is offering an assortment of classes in drama, dance, and technical theater this spring and summer, with in-person (safely socially distanced with limited enrollment) and online offerings. 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, said the hardest decision she had to make last year was canceling the theater's late spring production, “The Robber Bridegroom.”
“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.”
Eventide’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. The theater also offered a virtual master class, virtual readings of Shakespeare's works with local actors and theater lovers playing the roles, and a weekly virtual classic storytelling event.
One year later, Eventide has announced its 2021 season and has committed to no cancellations.
The first two productions will be exclusively available online through specialized streaming platforms. For the second half of the season, small-scale productions were chosen which can change from an indoor performance venue to an outdoor performance venue, to exclusively streaming if necessary, without impacting the quality of the production or the performances. The season will include “Teacher of the Year,”written and directed by local playwright Jim Dalglish; “Twain by the Tale”by Dennis Snee; “The Last Five Years” by Jason Robert Brown; and “HA!” a collection of Rich Orloff's three most popular one-act comedies.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 last year, an online presence was in development. Board of Trustees President Judy Hamer explained at that time that an online dance class for young children was in the planning stage, as were online formats for music and acting classes. In accordance with social distancing precautions, virtual auditions were being arranged for hoped-for summer and fall productions.
“We have been pretty busy this winter,” Hamer said one year later. “January, February we put out two musical revues of songs through the decades. We started with the 1960s, then the '70s.  This month we are halting on that for a moment to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day and putting out some Irish songs this week. Next month we will continue our songs through the decades with the 1980s and in May the '90s. We have continued to hold online classes throughout this year and are eager to once again hold them in person.”
Hamer said that she hopes performances
will be back in person soon, including the play they never got a chance to do last year, “The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet,” which actors are ready and excited to perform. She hopes to bring some outdoor performances to the community this summer, continuing the song revues by decade, going back to the '30s, '40s and '50s.
“In August our hope is to have 'A Little Mermaid' also outside,” Hamer said.

Additionally, the sale of the school building is closing this week, and Hamer is hopeful that with that finalized, the Academy Playhouse organization will go forward toward a bright future. The town of Orleans will aid in a preservation makeover of the outside of the historic Playhouse, replacing the siding and the windows, and a new dance studio is being created in the building. For more information, visit academyplayhouse.org or the theater’s Facebook page at facebook.com/apacape.
This time last year, the Cape Cod Cultural Center in Yarmouth was closed until further notice, with staff working safely from their homes, creating online opportunities to stay engaged with their community. The Center had recently 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.
A year later, Communications Director Lauren Wolk said that thanks to the generosity of donors – combined with a lot of hard work, creativity, and good old-fashioned thrift – the Cape Cod Cultural Center has been able to face the pandemic from a position of strength, but it hasn’t been easy.
“The minute we learned about the lockdown last March, we pivoted to online learning, digital exhibits, and other ways to keep the community engaged,” Wolk said. “It was a struggle to retain every member of our staff, but we did it. And it’s a good thing we did, because the workload has been extraordinary.”
Wolk said that when the Center was permitted to reopen in July, staff continued to work with youth at risk through in-person mentorships, filled the galleries with art, launched livestreamed entertainment, and offered a combination of digital, hybrid, and on-site educational opportunities in a broad range of subject areas. But over the course of 2020, they unavoidably lost over $350,000 in earned revenue, primarily in ticket sales.
“PPP funding was a huge blessing, our donors have continued to support us, and our programs have helped us pay the bills, but it’s going to take a long time before the creative sector heals from this pandemic,” Wolk said. “Now that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, we are cautiously planning to offer small, in-person events in May, and we’re looking forward to a surge of participation as soon as restrictions are lifted. As always, we’ll have a boatload of great events, exhibits, and classes on tap when the time comes.”
For more information, visit cultural-center.org or facebook.com/culturalcenterofcapecod.