by Lorie Lewis Ham
This has been a difficult time for everyone. Not only are businesses closed that aren’t essential, but all events have been canceled as well. Many of those events have found creative ways to happen virtually, providing mostly free entertainment for those of us stuck in our homes. Community theatre has been hit particularly hard, canceling their shows has not only been disappointing for everyone, but they also don’t have those ticket sales coming in to help pay the bills.
KRL chatted recently via email with some of the local theatre companies about their current plans, things they may be doing online for their patrons, and how people can help them in this difficult time.
Reedley’s River City Theatre Company has been posting on their Facebook page, asking patrons to vote for their favorite past production from each season. “We will put these selections into a bracket to form a tournament-style SHOWdown to find the overall favorite,” stated an RCTC Board representative.
The best way to keep up with what RCTC is doing is to like their Facebook page. They recently posted the following announcement about their summer show. “In the interest of public health and complying with the latest guidelines regarding COVID-19, the RCTC Board of Directors has decided to postpone the production of Big River until 2021. Thank you to those of you who have already purchased tickets and to those who auditioned for this production. As soon as dates are determined for next season, you will be notified. Season ticket holders will be contacted by letter and phone call to discuss ticket options. We look forward to putting on this beautiful, contemplative show once it is safe to do so and hope you will all join us then. Thank you for your understanding and flexibility. Eventually, the show will go on!”
The Visalia Players, who perform at the Ice House Theater in Visalia, have also had to postpone some shows, and cancel others. “For 20th Century Blues which was postponed into our next season and for Now and Then which was just cancelled, we have issued complimentary tickets to our 2020-21 season for our current season ticket holders so they won’t lose any value,” shared Membership Chairperson Nancy Holley.
“We have postponed Honky Tonk Cabaret until June hoping that the shelter-in-place will have been lifted and we can once again gather as a theatre family,” continued Nancy. “If we are able to have the show as planned, there will be drawings for season ticket holders, and at the final performance, there will be a drawing from our season ticket holder winners throughout the season for a free super package ticket to our 2020-21 season which opens in July.”
As to how patrons can help support the Visalia Players during this time, Nancy stated that they obviously still have expenses that occur whether or not they are able to produce shows, so donations are always welcome, but their life’s blood are season ticket sales. “We are in the process of creating our brochure for the 2020-21 season. We will be doing a mass mailing of that brochure probably in early June. If a large portion of those to whom we mail brochures buy season tickets, it will go a long way to keeping us solvent.
“We have wonderful entertainment planned for next year including 6 plays, 2 musicals, and 3 cabarets. We look forward to seeing new and familiar faces once this pandemic is under control. In the meantime, we want everyone to stay safe and healthy.”
Workshop 44 in Los Banos has launched the 44 Virtual Drama Club, a group on Facebook that coordinates their multi-platform interactive virtual events. “The 44 Virtual Drama Club offers many opportunities for virtual interactions, such as hosting group watch parties of different theatrical productions, including musicals, plays, archival footage and other performances,” shared Founder and Artistic Director Robert Jerome. “Each watch party has live text chats and intermission/end-of-show video chats and talk backs.”
The live watch parties have started to form an unofficial schedule with:
Wednesdays – Kid Friendly shows
Saturdays (Afternoon) – Family Musical shows
Saturdays (Night) – Adult Themed shows
Sundays – Classical Play Sunday
Through Workshop 44 and the 44 Virtual Drama Club, they have begun the process of releasing a line-up of Podcasts. The first two – Good Morning Isolation and The Show Must Go On – can be found on their Facebook Page, YouTube, and Spotify. All 44 Virtual Drama Club activities are completely free of charge. They are also having two playwright competitions: Twisted Fairy Tales, a competition for kids, and also a One Act Competition for adults of all experience levels. And on April 25 they will be having a virtual watch party event of a show they created a few years back.
“We want to stress that although we are currently under shelter-in-place, Workshop 44 is working at home to make sure we are ready to jump into production once we can,” continued Robert. They have plans to open Mamma Mia at Mission De Oro in Santa Nella in September and Descendants will still be coming to the community in October!
“Due to the pandemic, many of our sponsors have had to freeze or put their financial support on hold. Our organization thrives off sponsorships and the very low amount of income from ticket sales, as it is our mission is to keep theater accessible.
“Workshop 44 has not had to put any registration fees in place and would love to maintain that for our programs. We are in the need of help from any supporter of the performing arts and are accepting fully tax-deductible donations. To make a donation you can contact us at ws.fortyfour@gmail[dot]com.”
Lindsay Community Theater is putting together some home videos to share online and posting pictures from past shows. “I put together a virtual 35 years of Broadway in Lindsay show and am posting it on Facebook,” said Jim Kliegl, Lindsay Community Theater Manager.
“Our patrons have always supported us very well,” continued Jim. “In this time, I would ask for their patience. We all have our lives on hold right now, and theater is probably the last thing on many people’s minds. We hope to resume in the fall and would ask our patrons to support us by coming to our theater again once we are up and running.
“Many theater people, like myself, are having withdrawal symptoms. I can’t wait to get back at it, and I know there are many others who feel the same way, but for now, stay home, stay safe, and pray for a speedy end to this pandemic. God help us all.”
Enchanted Playhouse in Visalia is trying to meet their patrons where they are, in the home. “We are doing this through our Facebook and YouTube, and different tutorials, put on by our cast and crew,” shared Shanna Meier, Board President. “So far we have quite a few make-up tutorials, audition tips and how to memorize lines. We are planning on trying to post different tutorials a couple of times a week. We have also had a reading of our next show Treasure Island by the director. I have also been trying to go live weekly to update our patrons on where we are and answer any questions.”
Right now, thankfully Enchanted has not been affected financially. “A lot of other local theatres are,” continued Shanna.” Personally, my family is donating our stimulus check to local theatres such as The Ice House and Encore Theatre (in Tulare) as well as Enchanted. We are also posting on our Facebook non-profit performing arts theatres that people can donate to.”
They are however worried about their fall performances. “While other community theatres can get back up and running, with us we rely on our school show field trips. If there are limits on schools doing field trips or assemblies such as the governor is expecting, that means no school Theatre field trips. If this happens, we would not be able to afford to keep our shows at the Fox or continue our public shows at the low ticket cost. We are brainstorming ideas on how we can move past that and will be meeting (virtually) as a board and with school administrators trying to figure this out. Any ideas out there would be welcome.”
Good Company Players in Fresno stated that they are actually pretty busy in spite of the temporarily darkened theatres. “We are dealing with the nuts and bolts part of the pandemic like everyone else — trying to decipher the CARES Act and apply for the aid provided, working on ways to weather the storm, and learning a LOT of things outside our normal wheelhouse,” stated GCP’s Creative Director Laurie Pessano. “There is a surprising amount of drama involved in that endeavor — and some truly comic situations, too. I’m sure we’ll laugh later.
“On the entertainment front, a few of our merry band have been keeping up an active social media presence. Right now on Facebook, we invited patrons, actors, techies, friends of the theatre to share their favorite GCP memories. We’re getting some great stories and we are digging into our archives to match photos with reminiscences and if there are no photos, then our talented GCPeep, Allyson Darakjian is providing illustrations. We also are maintaining our Daily Muse which is a daily quote (or somewhat more sporadic) on Facebook and Twitter. Right now, the theme is theatre and the performing arts. A week or so ago, our improv team did a Zoomprov session while still in our pajamas at home for The Munro Review. An interesting experience. We’ve been having virtual rehearsals for The King & I and This Random World.”
Members of GCP are also trying to contribute to The Covid Cause in small ways–members rallied behind an impromptu toilet paper drive for a local group of hospices and a number of their gifted costume shop staff are madly sewing masks for those in need.
For those interested in helping Good Company Players or Roger Rocka’s, there are a number of things they can do. Buy gift certificates online at rogerrockas.com, or join GCP’s Fan Club at gcplayers.com/home/fan-club, or donate to The Junior Company Foundation at www.facebook.com/JuniorCompanyFoundation.
Golden Chain Theatre in Oakhurst has also been posting clips and photos of past shows. Their Board of Directors President Michael Van Buren stated that they are really missing their audiences and the opportunity to bring Mary Poppins to them. “One way our patrons have already shown us great support is by holding on to the tickets they had purchased for Poppins until we are able to reschedule. If they would like to support us further, season tickets are still available for purchase, which will help us greatly during this time when our normal revenues are on hold. Another cost free way to show support would be to go to our Facebook page and leave an encouraging word for our performers and staff.”
The Kings Players in Hanford are using the time to get some much needed maintenance and upgrades done in and around the building since there aren’t any rehearsals going on. “There are brand new, beautiful, energy efficient light fixtures outside in front of the building, to name one,” shared Christa Van Gemert, Kings Players Board Secretary. “The script committee has been reading a lot of scripts to consider for the 2021 season. We aren’t set up to stream anything, unfortunately, but it’s something we want to look into for the future.”
Christa shared that the best thing their patrons can do to help is to come out and see the next show they are able to put on! “Donations are also always welcome and greatly appreciated if people are able; I know that’s tough for many right now. And spread the word about our theater. People will be itching to get out and do something fun once they’re able to again, so keep us in mind!
“We also want to thank all of our loyal patrons who filled our seats and made our last production so successful, in spite of having to wrap early. We are so grateful for all of you.”
Nicolette Anderson and Juan Guzman of the Selma Arts Center stated that they are currently planning a few digital events that will take form in the way of workshops, classes, readings, watch parties of original SAC content, live cast reunions, and a few other surprises to keep their patrons engaged. “We are hoping to gather together a variety of options for people, whether they have theater experience or just want to try something new. We should be posting registration for events in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!”
As to what people can do to help support them during this time, they stated that like most non-profit theatre companies they rely heavily on ticket sales and donations. “We have been humbled by our patron’s requests to support SAC at this time and are working on adding a donation link to our website in order to make it easy. Soon, anyone who visits the website will have the option to make a financial contribution to our mission, donate the price of a ticket once we open up again, or become a chair sponsor. You can sponsor a chair in your name or in honor of a loved one. Names will be displayed on our lobby recognition plaque.”
SAC has been overwhelmed by the support of their SAC family and loyal patrons. “The decisions we’ve made over the last few weeks have come after much conversation and deliberation and were decided with the health and safety of our community in mind. We are anxious to continue with our season and to return to our work of bringing art and entertainment to the people of the valley. Rest assured, when it’s time to open up again, we will be back with more passion, heart, and stronger than ever.”
Keep an eye on all of the theatre companies’ Facebook pages if you want to stay aware of anything special they are doing online now, and what will be coming when they are able to perform again. As soon as theatre is back on stage again in the Valley KRL will also be there covering shows as we have for the last ten years, and posting local auditions. In the meantime, you can keep an eye on our local streaming events page and watch for articles highlighting local virtual events, and interviewing local performers.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors–many of whom you will have seen on local stages. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on Podbean. A new episode goes up next week!
Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.