.Coronavirus Outbreak Brings Local Theatre to an Unprecedented Halt

Faced with tightening restrictions and an unstable situation, our local theater companies are among those groups that have been forced to abruptly cancel shows—including productions they have been working up for months.

Mountain Community Theater pulled the plug on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on opening night last week. Actors’ Theatre postponed its May production of Clybourne Park until September. New Music Works postponed its April concert until the fall. Jewel Theatre Company is rescheduling its production of Heisenberg until June. And there will be more.

Anyone who’s ever worked in live performance—a musical concert, stage play, dance production—knows the excruciating pain of having to abandon all of that work, work that can never be recaptured because it depends upon existing in a finely tuned state of readiness in real time and space.

Director Miguel Reyna, who had been working for months on the MCT’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was beside himself with frustration when on opening day the theater company was forced to cancel the show.

“We’re ready to perform this at a moment’s notice,” Reyna assured me a few days ago. “We’re all—all 16 actors, we’re still ready to go.”

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At first, Reyna resisted the rumors of possible shutdown. “Actors are stubborn,” he confesses. “The show-must-go-on mentality.” Even as prohibitions grew against social gatherings, “we were still ready to do this.” MCT’s Board of Directors, Reyna recalls, began leaning toward cancelling, “but the actors voted to continue.”

On Friday, March 13, in the midst of final preparations, Reyna got the news. Members of the company were in tears.

“When you’re in a production, you have a sense of how good it might be. We had a really special ensemble, and we wanted to show it to the world. The cancellation just about killed us,” he says. Meanwhile the director maintains his day job with the Live Oak School District and dreams of the moment his production can take the stage.

Peter Gelblum, president of MCT’s Board, says the company has also cancelled their next show, Calendar Girls, which was due to open May 15, “because the lockdown order makes rehearsing impossible, particularly when almost all the cast members are over 60.” They may move Cuckoo’s Nest to that opening date, if possible.

Gelblum isn’t sure how MCT will handle tickets that were already sold.  

“Everything is up in the air because of the uncertainty about when we’ll be able to re-open,” he says. “We are still discussing how to handle season-ticket holders, but one possible action is to offer them additional tickets for future shows. We have offered everyone who bought tickets for the show (non-subscribers) a refund or tickets to later productions. We’re grateful that almost nobody is asking for a refund, and most people are, instead, donating the price of their tickets.”

Julie James, founder, producer, and actor for Jewel Theatre Company, has found a similar generosity among those who already had tickets for Jewel’s Heisenberg.

“We have heard from about 20% of our ticket holders,” James says. “Most subscribers are saying to hold their tickets for the rescheduled performances, a few are asking that their tickets be credited to next season, and some single ticket buyers are asking for refunds. Several patrons have been generous and immediately made monetary donations to help us. Hopefully, the donations will be enough to offset the refunds.”

As producer, it was James herself who had to make the call on cancelling the show, after almost a month of rehearsals.

“It’s very frustrating needless to say, especially when we were poised to open Heisenberg within a few days of having to shut down,” James says. “This was the first time we’ve had to do that at Jewel Theatre. In these kinds of situations you find it is really important to remain calm, consider all the challenges and options, discuss with the appropriate affected parties, and then move forward.  Then stay alert and be ready to change plans as needed.”

James is already wondering how she will schedule not only the rest of this season but also next season.

“The goal is always to be able to present the show so many people spent hours and hours working on. So my first plan is to reschedule the show at first opportunity, and if that can’t work, then I look to putting it in the next season,” she says. “I am in constant contact with the actors and director about the scheduling possibilities, near and farther off, and then in discussions with my box office staff about best options for our audience.  With the current extremely fluid situation, I am having to lay out not just Plan B, but Plans C, D and E. This is a scary time that will see the collapse of many small businesses and nonprofits, and we are working hard to move forward in a cautious way that is safe and stable physically and financially for all the people we hire and create with.”

For information about donating to Mountain Community Theater, go to mctshows.org. For Jewel, jeweltheatre.net. For Actors’ Theatre, sccat.org.

Coronavirus Coverage

For continuing in-depth coverage of the new coronavirus and its effects locally, visit goodtimes.sc/category/santa-cruz-news/coronavirus.

To learn about action you can take now, whether you’re seeking assistance or want to find ways of supporting the community, visit goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-coronavirus-resources.


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