As statewide COVID-19 guidelines begin to change, local theatres are “dusting off the cobwebs” and reopening their doors to bring live theatre back to Rhode Island.
Tammy Brown, the artistic director of the Contemporary Theatre Company (CTC) in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, said that they started planning back in February for the return to “normal” theatre, despite not knowing what the state of live entertainment would look like months later.
“All of our performances are outside on our patio space,” Brown said. “The casts are relatively small, and each show is like it’s own unit, so that it could be rehearsed in small groups.”
Brown calls this new outdoor season a time of “reinvention” for the CTC, with actors and directors coming out of quarantine with new ideas.
In June, the CTC will be applying a modern narrative to classic Shakespeare love scenes. The performances hope to spark the debate on if falling in love is something tragic or something beautiful, according to Brown.
“We’re doing a fully improvised musical, which we’ve been working on for years,” Brown said about another show opening this summer. “It’s a pretty unique offering compared to many other theatres in the sense that we can put on a whole, full-length improvised musical with no lines or anything.”
When COVID-19 first hit in March of 2020, the CTC was forced to shut down completely until fall of 2020. All shows were executed using social distancing, wearing masks and abiding by the other Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines at that time.
Over the holiday season, the ensemble of the CTC went Christmas caroling outdoors with masks on to keep both the cast and the community excited and united, Brown said. Normal CTC traditions still took place, but were adapted into an online format.
“We did our annual event which is the 24-hour play festival where we create several whole plays within 24 hours,” Brown said. “We did a handful of other small online productions in between. We definitely had a season, just not as packed as it normally would have been without the pandemic.”
Bill Hanney, owner and producer of Theatre By the Sea in South Kingstown, Rhode Island said that he was “thrilled” when the state announced that theatres could open up again as early as May 29. However, due to the necessary amount of preparation, Theatre by the Sea won’t be re-opening until early July.
“We have ‘Mamma Mia!’ scheduled, which will be coming out in mid-August and [will] run for three weeks,” Hanney said. “In the meantime, we have smaller shows planned that will be out earlier, so that more people can be in the theatre as soon as possible.”
Theatre By the Sea also hosts different concerts from local artists, which Hanney suspects will be popular this summer, since no one has been able to see live music for more than a year.
In addition to performances, Hanney said Theatre By the Sea offers musical theatre camps for young actors. The state guidelines are allowing them to take full enrollment, and spots are already filling up quickly.
Theatre By the Sea is a seasonal theatre, usually open during the summer months, so Hanney said a short season is typical for them, however not as short as this summer will be.
“It’s very hard to open up a three and a half month theatre for just a month and a half, but I think it’s necessary to open up and get people their theatre back,” said Hanney.
On a larger scale, Broadway recently announced that it will allow the reopening of theatres in full capacity September, with tickets for popular shows on sale now and opening dates ranging from Sept. 2 to late December, depending on the show.
However, with a lack of tourism in New York City, experts project that Broadway sales will have a slow start. According to the New York Times, 75 percent of Broadway’s yearly tickets are sold to tourists, but due to the pandemic, people haven’t been able to travel to NYC.
No official statement on COVID-19 guidelines in Broadway theatres has been made, however New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has publicly said that it is most likely that vaccinations would be required in order to attend a Broadway show.
Whether it’s the local stage or a trip to one of the largest theatres in the world, live entertainment is officially making its comeback from COVID-19.