Despite the challenges of COVID-19 related social distancing, local theaters see this setback as an intermission rather than the final curtain.
Community theater Millennium Repertory Company president Rachel Spangler said, “In these times of social isolation, people have turned to entertainment and the arts to keep spirits up. Community theater must continue because it’s a place to take a step back from difficulties life can throw at you.”
Theater benefits actor and patron alike. “For a performer, it’s a safe place to be more creative, or to learn to be a better speaker, listener, or partner,” Spangler said. “For a theater patron it’s a place for entertainment, reflection, and togetherness. There aren’t too many places that give you all of that, and we hope you’ll take the time to support us and other community theaters as we all try to figure out the appropriate steps to open our doors.”
Manchester’s community theater was hit hard by the COVID-19 related shutdowns. Before the governor limited large gatherings with his series of executive orders, Millennium Repertory Company and its collection of youth programs had already begun to cancel or postpone shows.
“Evita,” MRC big spring musical was in the final weeks of rehearsal, and the Wee Actors Guild production of “Disney’s Frozen” was cast and gearing up for rehearsals.
“There was no way we could have rehearsed,” notes Joel Longstreth Millennium Repertory Company’s Managing Director. “It’s obvious now it was the right choice because we’d be in the middle of the production when the (executive orders were made).”
“We couldn’t have had (“Frozen”) either. So we moved that show to October and cancelled the show coming up in October and moved it to then,” Longstreth said.
“Mostly we wanted to keep it on because of the large amount of field trips coming,” he said.
There were 1,000 area students scheduled to attend shows this spring to see daytime shows alone.
“We’re hoping they will be able to come and see the shows in October,” he said.
“Evita” was moved to the 2021 season.
Outside of MRC’s productions, Jamie Harden’s Ultimate Oldies production of “Mamma Mia” was scheduled for June and has been postponed until September. Duck River Dance’s annual recital “Hindsight 2020” was scheduled for May 29-31 and will now be July 24-26.
Social distancing will affect theater seating and capacity, depending continually updating state guidelines.
Social distancing a romantic musical
The Teen Actors Guild’s production of “West Side Story” has been cast and rehearsals are proceeding with equal measures of caution and innovation. The show is a modern telling of Romeo and Juliet, set to music and dance.
Longstreth said that auditions were held virtually. Rehearsals so far have been difficult. Music rehearsals have been limited to eight actors standing far apart and sometimes outdoors.
Read Throughs have been held online.
Spangler explained, “Right now we’re trying to stay as virtual as possible. For example, our teen show ‘West Side Story’ is utilizing Google Meet, and is only having rehearsals with small groups using social distancing and outside rehearsal spaces,” she said.
“If you drive by the MAC at the right time, you might see some of them singing on the back porch or in the back parking lot as we keep in line with guidelines from health officials,” she said.
Opening night for “West Side Story” is planned for Aug. 7.