When Covid-19 made a dramatic entrance on the world stage, the curtains closed in local theaters. But it didn’t take long for directors to reclaim the spotlight and get back to doing what they do best: help us cope with, escape and even laugh through these difficult days. The show goes on for four local theaters as they adapt with brilliant creativity.
Director Kristen Hoch and her students at Lakota East Thunderhawk Theater are mastering the art of getting close without physically being near each other.
“The scripts allowed for all kinds of funny jokes,” Hoch tells of their fall classwork. “Like, in one scene, the frog prince and princess kissed with giant felt lips on popsicle sticks and they did a high-five with them. There was even an air-hug at one point,” she says.
The students rehearse via Zoom or in masked small groups at a safe social distance. Temperature checks, sanitizer, quarantine and postponements are all a part of theater safety protocols. Tickets, playbills and communication moved to online. Hoch and her team are ready to pivot, no matter the circumstances.
“The kids are still great kids. They still want to be here. They still want that shot at a lead role. They still want to work on the team. We’ve just got to provide a safe way for that to happen,” Hoch adds.
Conditions are similar at the Sharonville Cultural Arts Center (SCAC), according to Executive Director Michelle Taylor and Development Director Matthew Taylor. The local venue hosts live productions for performers of all ages, movies, classes and a visual arts gallery and is now functioning at a mandated 30% capacity, dropping from 150 to about 43 seats per show.
“This season looks very different than what we originally thought it would,” says Matthew.
“We are down 75% from our projected budget for 2020,” Michelle reports.
SCAC is willing to do whatever it takes to stay open for business, and the Taylors are wearing multiple hats to fit the duties that arise.
“We have learned to flex!” says Michelle.
“We never thought we’d be in the video/film business, but that’s something we jumped in and learned how to do,” Matthew explains.
They’ve also become experts at disinfection, a necessary skill in these days of the virus.
“We spend a lot of our time cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting between performances,” Matthew continues. “It’s a whole different world for us.”
“We are trying to cater to a spectrum of the different comfort levels here as we progress,” Michelle says. “Our main priority is to keep everyone safe.”
At the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, Executive Director Ian MacKenzie-Thurley is missing a bustling lobby full of people of all ages.
“The theater is our lifeblood,” MacKenzie-Thurley says, “however at the center of that is the health and prosperity of our audience—that’s paramount—and the health and well-being of our staff.”
The Fitton Center staff and board is seizing this time as an opportunity to better serve the community and build a connection with its people.
“We are really looking at this as an opportunity to take a step back and take a good look at all of our programming, all of our systems and our approach, and go forward in a positive way,” MacKenzie-Thurley says. “We are trying to find diverse ways of reengaging with our audience.”
In the meantime, flexibility and patience is key.
“We ask for people’s patience as we find a path forward that is safe and sustainable,” says MacKenzie-Thurley. “We are making plans and we are changing them,” he says.
MacKenzie-Thurley reflects on the purpose of the arts and goals for the Fitton Center.
“When everything shut down, the first thing everybody went to was the arts,” he says. “We were online watching our favorite shows, downloading music and listening to our favorite songs. There were art and craft maker videos—all of this was the arts. We were the first there. We didn’t put our hand out, we put our foot forward. We asked, ‘What can we give? How can we get everybody through this lockdown and keep everybody sane?’”
“The care from our community and sense of camaraderie between the arts organizations and our funders has really been outstanding,” MacKenzie-Thurley shares. “We cannot express our appreciation enough. We can’t wait to deliver big things. Oh, we’ve got some things planned!”
Kim Eldridge, director of Lakota West Theatre, agrees that theater is needed now more than ever.
“Musical theater in general was created as an escape from World War I,” Eldridge shares. “We need that escape from this pandemic. For those two hours, we need to envelope ourselves in the world of a musical or a show and let the arts do what it’s supposed to do, which is to heal,” she says.
Eldridge is focused on giving her students the best experience she can under the tension of the pandemic.
“This is my twenty-seventh year teaching educational theater and it’s definitely the most difficult year of my career,” says Eldridge. “I’m trying to keep their spirits up. They feel the stress in the air. They are just trying to focus on the moment and not to be concerned about things that are out of their control.”
Even amidst all of the stress, the theater students are grateful.
“They are just happy to get to do theater,” Eldridge notes. “Most of the high schools in the area aren’t doing shows this year so they are just excited to have as much of a normal season as we can.”
Eldridge is grateful, too.
“I applaud our administrators for putting in so many hours,” she says. “They are working so hard so the kids can stay in school.”
All of the theater directors expressed gratitude for supportive fans, donors, artists and volunteers. Give a round of applause with your support for local theaters.
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Fitton Center for Creative Arts
Check the online calendar for spring classes, outdoor shows and more.
Lakota East Thunderhawk Theater
Watch online news about upcoming shows, Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic in March and Emma! A Pop Musical in April.
Lakota West Theatre
Newsies is coming to the stage this April—see the website for details and ticket sales.
Sharonville Cultural Arts Center
Auditions are ongoing and volunteer applications are available. Visit the website for details.