Live theaters can reopen, but shows are still in early stages
On paper, it looks simple enough. With the gradual easing of pandemic restrictions, after more than a year in the dark, local live theater companies can reopen their venues for limited audiences, starting Thursday, April 15.
But while bars and restaurants are able to bring patrons back indoors rather quickly, mounting a full stage production is a different story. Some stage companies plan to welcome small live audiences indoors as early as next month, but others are looking to reopen next fall, when theater seasons typically begin.
“We are in discussion about doing a show in May,” said Jared Sakren, artistic director at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. “This news came up very quickly, and while we have been planning for months to reopen, we didn’t realize it would come this soon.”
Shows must be cast and rehearsed before live theaters can open new productions. Pandemic safety precautions will make the process even more complex. Proof of vaccination will be required for both theater personnel and audiences for theaters that want to open 35% of their seating. Otherwise, the cap is 25%.
“It takes five weeks to put together a production. A full musical would take six to seven weeks,” Sakren said. “Normally, you have to start marketing months in advance. And even with reopening allowed, you can’t pack the theater. If you’re talking about 25% capacity, opening is great but when does it make business sense to do it?”
At 6th Street Playhouse, the earliest performances will be by students of its theater classes. They’ll present four different shows, starting April 23 and running through mid-May, but these will not be open to the general public.
“We are offering the students’ parents a chance to come and watch the shows, if they can provide proof of vaccination and negative COVID test results,” said Anne Clark, managing director at 6th Street.
In the meantime, 6th Street is presenting “Applause,” its online fundraising performance and gala, on April 24.
One of the first local theaters to welcome live audiences again will be the Left Edge Theatre company at Santa Rosa’s Burbank Center for the Arts.
“We are planning to present ‘Slow Food,’ a comedy by Wendy McCleod, the first two weeks of June,” said Argo Thompson, artistic director of company.
“Following all safety ordinances in place at this time, that means 35% capacity. Audience members must verify they are vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID test. Our entire team producing the show is or will be fully vaccinated by that point,” he added.
The theater has installed ultraviolet lights in its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, as well as touchless hand sanitizers and cleaning systems. Thompson cited the CDC, which has said ultraviolet irradiation may help with decontamination.
“The audience needs to be masked,” Thompson said. “Actors will never be closer than 6 feet to the audience. Tickets will be available to our subscribers first and then, if seats remain, to the general public. We are still rehearsing in Zoom.”
After “Slow Food,” Left Edge will move quickly to its next production.
“We are still working out the details of our outdoor summer show, ‘Beautiful Monsters,’ written by local playwright and award-winning author Kelly Gray,” Thompson said. “It will be performed at Horse and Plow Winery in August, (with) dates and times to be decided.”
Online and indoor/outdoor shows
The Cloverdale Performing Arts Center and the Heroines, Harpies and Harlots theater company will produce its second annual “In Their Own Voice” theater festival, online, seeking to give all those who identify as women a platform, May 8-16. $12-$25. For details, visit Cloverdaleperformingarts.com.
At the Imaginists theater collective in Santa Rosa, the company continues to work with visiting artists to develop new productions, including some to be performed inside its A Street arts district building but visible to audiences outside.
“We will host Allie Hankins, a Portland-based dancer, performer and performance maker, and Rachael Dichter, a San Francisco-based dancer, performer, choreographer and curator, in late April through May. We hope to schedule a work-in-process showing of their work in May,” said Brent Lindsay, Imaginists executive director.
“The Imaginists will continue to experiment with our own interdisciplinary, collaborative performances. We plan to open an all-new window/garage door performance early summer 2021, dates to be decided,” he said.
The Transcendence Theatre Company, belatedly marking its 10th anniversary season, plans to present drive-in productions of “My Hero” in June at various Sonoma County locations, followed by shows at the company’s traditional venue, Jack London State Historic Park, in August and September.