Local theater community to explore new ways for the show to go on

Sierra Rains
Thirty young actors made up the cast of “Disney’s Jungle Book KIDS,” a previous production of Ardmore Little Theatre.

Empty seats and dark, vacant stages have characterized many community theaters across southern Oklahoma over the past few months.

“Where we would normally have hundreds of kids per week that have come through the building we haven’t had anybody,” said Vicki Gelona, the artistic director for Carousel Productions.

The Brass Ring Center for Performing Arts in Ardmore has been closed since around spring break to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, resulting in the cancellation of several normal spring and summer activities for children in the community.

This includes the Broadway Kids program, a “by audition only” group for students in kindergarten through high school geared towards theatrical performance. Each year the Broadway Kids perform a variety of show tunes and a final stage performance in May titled “Kids for Kids,” but 2020 will be different.

“It’s closed everything except the things that we could do through Zoom,” Gelona said.

The Ardmore Little Theatre has also been desolate as two regular productions and the community theater’s summer program for kids were canceled in response to the pandemic.

ALT Board President Carl Clark said the children were supposed to put on a production of “Seussical Jr.” this year, but the three week classes leading up to the performance were simply not possible.

Performers throughout the community have been itching to get back on stage. “Everyday you see an email or a Facebook message from somebody eager for us to get back together, being frustrated with being isolated,” Clark said.

With restrictions beginning to ease in the state, the local theater community is beginning to explore new ways to carry out performances in the future.

Carousel Productions is planning to produce three musicals as a part of their Summer Youth Theatre Program at the Brass Ring Center. In order to protect the children’s health, however, Gelona said the auditions for the musicals will take place over video instead of in person.

The children will be asked to read lines and sing tunes, all done over video. While trying to plan a production for July, Clark said the Ardmore Little Theatre is also considering this option.

However, Clark said he fears that it will be difficult to see the chemistry between two actors over video. Typically, he said, a director will look to see how well two actors play off of each other or, for example, if they look like a family for the role.

“It’s kind of difficult to do serious casting,” Clark said. “I mean you can say, ‘Okay this person’s got talent’— it’s obvious from the video. But you can’t see how they react to somebody else’s actions unless you got them in front of you working together.”

The pandemic may also change the way audiences view performances and the performances themselves will likely have to be modified to fit health guidelines. Clark said ALT has been experimenting with audience sizes and spacing for it’s upcoming annual meeting required by bylaws.

The meeting will be held in the Goddard Center Auditorium, but with guests sitting six feet apart from each other and an empty row every other row.

“Rather than having room for 300 people, we’re going to have room for less than 100,” Clark said. “The same thing would impact any of our productions, where typically we’re hoping to get a house full.”

With such seating requirements Clark said it will be impossible to have a full house for performances, resulting in impacts to the theater’s revenue stream. The theater depends on earned revenue from performances as well as grants and donations.

“Our product is performance basically,” Clark said. “We don’t charge for our workshops typically. So it’s the only way we have to generate revenue is through performances or begging for money through donations and grants.”

The Brass Ring Center will also likely see a reduction in ticket sales and revenue with audience limitations, Gelona said. However, it is difficult to predict exactly how much revenue will be lost and how this will impact the theaters at this time.

Gelona said the performances at the Brass Ring Center will also be streamed online so that individuals who can’t make it out, such as grandparents of the children, have a chance to view the production. “I think it’s possible that there might have to be some type of ticket price with that just so we can hopefully continue to have some income with this,” she said.

Performers will have masks incorporated into their costumes and certain precautions will be taken to make sure individuals experiencing symptoms or who have a temperature are not allowed into the theaters.

“We’re going to do anything that we can to minimize the problem,” Clark said. “Make sure that everybody is masked and that they don’t have any symptoms when they come in and that they ask everybody to wash their hands.”

Gelona said the Brass Ring Center is prepared to extend performance dates or hold productions in the fall if there is any spike in illness. However, the performance center is going to try its best to safely carry out the Summer Youth Theatre productions in order to regain a sense of normalcy for the children who have been cooped up at home.

“It’s something that we all love. So just the normalcy of being able to continue that is really important for all of us,” Gelona said. “We’re going to give it a try and hope to see that it’s successful and we don’t have any increase in our numbers in Carter County. We’ve been very blessed to have so few right now.”