Many Capital Region theaters go dark from June through August every year, but the summer of 2021, if all goes well, promises to be a bit different.
“I’m hoping the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, but might actually be the light that things are going to get better,” said Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, producing artistic director at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. “Hope is a wonderful thing, and I am cautiously optimistic.”
Live, fully-staged performances before an audience came to an end on March 12, 2020, because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. At Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, founder and artistic producing director Carol Max completely shut down her operation, but like everyone else is anxious to put on a live, stage play, before an audience, regardless of the season.
“We will start very slowly and see how it goes, but we might test the waters in May and do a one-woman show, and then maybe a three-person comedy in the summer,” said Max. “But there’s a lot that you have to make sure you get right. I’ve talked to some of our patrons, and some of them are ready to come back, and some still want to wait a little while. Even when the governor gives you a green light, you can’t just jump back in without any worries. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves.”
The green light Max refers to is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement earlier this month that indoor theaters could open up at 33 percent capacity. Operating with only 33 percent of your ticket base, however, is problematic.
“When you look at just 33 percent, there are a lot of numbers crunching you have to do,” said Max. “I will love to see those percentages go up, because at 33 percent you have to wonder just how feasible it’s going to be to keep things going. I have to sit down with my accountant and see what we can do, but I’m thinking we’re going to be doing small shows for a while. We have fixed costs such as utilities and the royalties we pay to produce a play, so I don’t see any big shows with nine or 10 actors. At 33 percent you won’t get close to maintaining those costs.”
Max says her relatively new theater, which opened in September of 2017, has a modern air filtration system and plenty of sanitizing stations.
That’s also the case at Capital Rep, which has a new venue at 251 North Pearl waiting to make its debut after the group performed its show for 40 seasons at 111 North Pearl.
“If we continue to move forward I can see us maybe doing something modest this summer,” said Mancinelli-Cahill, whose troupe has mounted an online presence with a number of special events throughout the pandemic. “We have a brand new lovely theater which will be a very safe place for our patrons. We’ll have social distancing, we won’t have an intermission and we’ll make sure everybody involved will be safe.”
That includes the cast and crew, which at Cap Rep are almost always union members of Actors Equity.
“They have guidelines to keep all the actors and directors safe, and they also have limitations on costume changes and the number of people backstage. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and we’re going to make sure we follow all the rules and do everything we can to make everyone in theater safe.”
In Schenectady, the Schenectady Civic Players have produced online events throughout much of the past 12 months. But at the historic Schenectady Civic Playhouse in the city’s Stockade section, the theater will remain dark for a while. It is the first time since the troupe opened in February of 1929 that it has gone a year without producing a stage play.
“At the moment we are planning on an online event over the summer and then returning to the theater in the fall,” said Schenectady Civic Players President Duncan Morrison. “We are looking at a hybrid production, online and in person, in early October to offer an option for different comfort levels, and then a full return in November.”
At Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs, new artistic director Eric Rudy oversaw some outdoor performances last summer, and the group has continued to have an online presence. The only thing he’s clear about for 2021 is that the group will be performing outdoors during the summer months.
“Producing live theater, or events of any kind, requires advanced planning, and at the moment the state guidelines for producing indoors are too tumultuous to navigate,” said Rudy, who served as assistant wardrobe master for the New York City Ballet from 2011 to 2018. “Therefore, we are currently only making plans for several outdoor productions throughout the summer and early fall. We hope to be able to present something indoors later in the year. Fingers crossed.”
Kevin McNamara, president of Albany Civic Theater, said that while his group had a “very successful” original playwright showcase on Zoom last week with actors performing a staged reading, there is “nothing concrete” yet about this spring or summer.
At Schenectady Light Opera Company, which typically produces large musicals, things will most likely remain dark all summer, and while the Classic Theater Guild is doing a zoom presentation of “Ideal Husband” this weekend, it also has no immediate plans to produce something live in front of an in-house audience.
“If somebody had told me last February we’d be closed for a year I would have laughed out loud,” said Mancinelli-Cahill, who was two weeks into a four-week run of “The Irish and How They Got That Way,” at Capital Rep when things were shut down. “We went from a full production, with 30 people in it, and the next day nothing. And then I was thinking maybe a couple of weeks or a month or so.”
At Curtain Call, Max was just finishing up a run of “Ben Butler” and preparing for its next show, “An Act of God.”
“Hopefully, all my patrons will be vaccinated and we will be able to do something in the summer,” said Max. “But you also have to worry about your actors. Some of our actors are in their 20s and they haven’t received their shots yet. So, I’m going to hope for the best, keep on reading, and maybe sometime soon we can start off by doing a one-woman show. And we will be following every protocol.”
CTG zooms ‘Ideal Husband’
Andrew Bryce will be starring as Sir Robert Chiltern in the Classic Theater Guild’s zoom production of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband.” Access to the show begins tonight (THURSDAY) at 7 and will be available through March 26.
Written by Wilde in 1895, the show is set in London, takes place over a 24-hour period, and revolves around blackmail and political corruption.
The show is being directed by Jonathan Riven. Kim Plofker is the narrator, while also in the cast are Ness Stark as Lady Gertrude Chiltern.
While the show if free, donations are welcome. Registration is required. For more information visit www.classictheaterguild.com.
More online entertainment will be available at the Mopco Improv Theatre in Schenectady Friday from 7:45-9:30 p.m. when the group holds its Improv Comedy Competition.
Cost of the Zoom event is $5. For more information visit www.mopco.org.