Theaters and COVID: staying safe

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

Theaters are proceeding in an age of social distancing and mandatory mask ordinances.

Around Lee County, performances have been canceled altogether or held outside for social distancing.

Opelika Theatre Company:

The Opelika Theatre company was preparing for a performance in May, The Addams Family Jr., but had to reschedule due to the coronavirus.

“I have a direction team composed of seven very qualified individuals, and we collectively decided we could do zoom meetings online several days a week, rehearsing lines, choreography and music,” said Marty Moore, one of the founders of OTC. “Also by doing zoom it kept the kids engaged with each so they wouldn’t miss their friends too much. We also conducted face time calls and one-on-one coaching sessions to help the cast develop their characters.”

Despite that, the performance was still rescheduled.

“We actually just started back rehearsals this month,” said Abby Freeman, a member of the creative team for OTC.

Things aren’t too different than they were in March, so the participants have to wear masks and make sure they are safe around one another, even during practices.

“Everyone is wearing masks at rehearsals, which is hard, especially for children,” Freeman said.

Not all cast members, the production is for children, returned when practices began again in August, she said.

“It’s actually really hard,” Freeman said. “We lost unfortunately a lot of our cast members, which we totally understood.”

OTC filled the roles that were lost and is preparing for the show, which involves re-blocking some scenes to make them safer, she said.

“Doing whatever we can to make it work and still be safe,” Freeman said.

The Company held a showcase on Saturday for all types of performers, which was held outdoors for a safer setting.

“[Two direction team members] pointed out it would be great for everyone who had ever been involved with OTC, or anyone who wanted to get involved with OTC to come together and showcase their talents,” Moore said. “… And to also hold the Showcase outside and make it a concert on the grounds – people could bring their own lawn chairs, blankets, etc. and enjoy entertainment and food vendors while social distancing.”

Auburn Area Community Theatre:

The Auburn Area Community Theatre had just finished a production of High School Musical in February when the pandemic blew in full force.

“We completed it and we honored our seniors and we did our little thank you’s at the end of the last show and it was lovely and it was just the very next week that everything shut down,” said Andrea Holliday, artistic director for the AACT.

The sales from the production helped buoy AACT through the pandemic, she said.

The theatre had another production scheduled for May, and at the time, no one was certain how long the pandemic would last.

“When everything shut down, we had a couple of rehearsals online and everyone was so shell-shocked,” Holliday said. “We didn’t know whether to continue rehearsing, that, is this going to be over by May?”

There is some sense of returned normalcy and the theatre just recently held a performance at the Kreher Nature Preserve and Nature Center.

“I think it was brilliant,” Holliday said. “It was brilliant because we limited the audience groups to ten people that were unrelated, but if you wanted to buy the whole group, you could buy the whole group.”

The performance was a walk through the preserve, with a tour guide, where audience members would come up to the actors and actresses.

For future performances, AACT is considering safety measures like asking cast members to apply makeup at home, not sharing dressing rooms and grouping audience members by family,  Holliday said.

“We chose to cancel our children’s camps this summer, we didn’t think it was practical to enforce the masking and the distancing on kids,” she said.

The next children’s performance will actually be based on the coronavirus pandemic, Holliday said.

“It’s taken from monologues that children wrote about their own experiences being alone and isolated in this whole new world that we live in,” she said.

The entire show, however, will be remote – from the practices to the performance itself.

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