A few hours after Governor Jay Inslee announced statewide shutdowns of public schools due to the spread of COVID-19, the cast of “Next to Normal” was about to take the stage at the Evergreen Playhouse.
With rapidly changing news bombarding them, the non-profit theater’s board had made the decision for the play to go on at least for its first weekend, with extra distancing and cleansing measures in place.
“We worked hard on this show and we wanted to show it,” said Danielle Rivers, board secretary. “We wanted people to see it but we had to make a lot of decisions all at once. It was new information every day.”
“Our board agrees this is the right thing to do but to have to shut them down, even temporarily, is heartbreaking,” said board president Kris Garrett. “None of us were ready for to be done with that show.”
“Next to Normal” opened on March 13 and was supposed to close March 29 but was able to achieve only three shows before the Evergreen Playhouse board decided to close to the public. The musical has been rescheduled for May 15-25, bumping “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, which was originally planned for May, to September. And they are not the only ones reeling from the effects of COVID-19. From Broadway to small community productions, theatres across the country are feeling the pinch of social distancing. Besides the Evergreen Playhouse, COVID-19 has postponed or canceled productions at: the Roxy in Morton; Playtime Theater in Centralia; and Rochester High School Drama.
Garrett said having to cancel this part of their seasons had the potential to be devastating to community theater, especially because many theaters are non-profits and many make pleas for membership and season tickets during their spring production.
“In my whole life, I never could have imagined something like this,” Garrett said. “We’ll weather the storm but having it be during our season ticket drive is a little scary.”
But determined to find a bright light in these uncertain times and to give their audiences something to hope for, last week the Evergreen Playhouse announced the lineup for its 61st Season. The theater traditionally announces the next year’s season during theater productions at this time of year and decided to post a video on their Facebook page last week officially announcing next year’s season: “Dracula” October 2020; “Elf The Musical” Nov./Dec. 2020; “Charley’s Aunt” Jan/Feb. 2021; “Little Shop of Horrors” March 2021; “The Laramie Project” April/May 2021; and Rodgers & Hammersteins “Cinderella” June 2021.
Rivers said many people’s charitable giving in the next few months will likely be focused on charities aimed at helping those hardest hit by COVID-19. In the midst of helping friends and neighbors, she said she would also urge local theater lovers to remember that many of their favorite theaters are also non-profits. She noted that the Evergreen Playhouse has no employees on regular payroll to worry about but that the loss of anticipated revenues from ticket sales in the next few months can mean worries for small theaters over standing obligations such as building mortgages and leases, facility maintenance, utility bills and printing and publicity fees for future shows. And many theaters that were in the midst of rehearsing their next shows had already paid for royalties and scripts when COVID-19 closed them down.
“I’d ask you, don’t ask them for a refund if a show was canceled or postponed. Consider it a donation,” Rivers said.
Anyone wanting to help local theaters thrive during the COVID-19 shut down can consider purchasing tickets for upcoming shows. The Evergreen Playhouse is offering online sales of its season tickets and flex passes for next year’s season for $65 each, with prices set to increase July 1. Evergreen supporters can also purchase seats for the seating campaign, which has reached about 70 of the needed 120 seats sold, meaning there is still about $25,000 left to raise. The Roxy Theatre in Morton is still offering season tickets and also offers an online donation option and the Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre also offers an online donation option.
Besides monetary donations, those who want to support their local theaters can also follow them on social media or sign up for their newsletters to get up to date information and be the first in the know when your favorite shows are rescheduled.
Other local theater seasons affected by COVID-19
Centralia College Drama, Centralia
www.centralia.edu/theatre or Centralia College Drama on Facebook
The musical “Into the Woods”, scheduled to open May 8 in Corbet Theatre, has been postponed and no reschedule date is yet known, said drama professor Emmy Kreilkamp. Governor Jay Inslee has directed all colleges and universities to use remote operations until April 24 and a Centralia College student has tested positive for COVID-19. Kreilkamp said May 1 is the first date she will be able to return to her office and a decision on rescheduling “Into the Woods” as well as the next season for Centralia College Drama will have to wait until more information is known about COVID-19 restrictions.
Playtime Theatre Company, Centralia
Playtime Theatre Company on Facebook
This fairly new non-profit theater company’s production of “Anne of Green Gables” was set to open April 3 and has been postponed.
The Roxy, Morton
Mortonroxy.org or Roxy Theater, OnStage Youth Theatre Education Program or BCJ Gallery on Facebook
The East Lewis County gem recently completed its dessert theatre showing of “Little Women” and had planned “I Ought to be in Pictures” in April and “Mary Poppins Jr.” In May. The theater made the decision to temporarily close all operations, including movies, on March 15 for at least the next few months or until the spread of COVID-19 is better under control. A decision about how and when to reschedule is on hold, although board president Genny Greiter said the hope is to add “I ought to be in pictures” as the first show of their next.
“It doesn’t turn on a dime. It takes a minimum 6 weeks to do a show,” Greiter said of the laborious process of rescheduling theater productions.
An August production of “Addams Family,” a collaboration between the Roxy’s OnStage Youth Theatre Education Program and Centralia College East, has also been postponed to a date to be determined.
Jessica Scogin, vice president of the Fire Mountain Arts Council, who was directing “Mary Poppins Jr.” said the cast of about 70 local youngsters is their largest yet and the decision to postpone was heartbreaking. But Scogin said she stands by the message on the theater’s sign that reads “be safe, stay home and we’ll see you in the new world.”
“It’s important that everyone stays home, especially in our small town with our small hospital and we have a lot of elderly people who support us,” Scogin said. “We plan to be back going strong as soon as this is over, we just don’t know when that will be.”
Tenino Young-at-Heart Theater
Teninoyoungathearttheatre.org or Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre on Facebook
The board for the Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre was set to meet this week and decide on a plan for the community theater’s production of “Hunchback of Notre Dame” scheduled for July 23-Aug. 1. If the production were canceled, it would mark the first time in the non-profit’s 32-year history that its summer show was not able to go forward.
Rochester High School Drama, Rochester
The original stage production of the classic movie “Harvey Girls” has been postponed until June 5-6.