Local theater groups crave stage-time amid pandemic, but staying virtual for now

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Think of all the aspects of theater that we know and love. A full audience, pit orchestra, and several busy working production crews backstage. Local theater groups say they want to return to that, and safely. While they’ve been finding ways to keep the energy virtually, the process thus far hasn’t been easy.

“We were one of the first ones to close, and we’re going to be the last ones to open,” said Danny Hoskins, on theaters. He is the Artistic and Managing Director at Blackfriar’s Theater in Rochester. They had to close their doors March 13, and cancel their season and summer programs.

“We pushed our 2020 season all the way to back Jan. [2021], and at that point it got really scary, and we said ‘if we’re not bringing in income from June to July, through December, how do we make what we have last? And the income we generate – which would be minimal in comparison to what we normally take in – how do we string that along?'”

Hoskins said concessions had to be made to reduce expenses. The theater set a budget that went from June to December, with minimal income, and all the expense they have month to month.

He said with his three-person staff furloughed, reduced expenses (with help from landlords, utility companies and banks) as well as a successful campaign, they were able to reduce expenses and extend the funding through the winter.

“Our goal is to return and back to work in October,” he said.

Hoskins said he hopes that by mid-Feb. he can bring people back into the theater – in a safe way. But it will look different – for cast members, and for the audience.

“We are doing a couple one person shows, and then a four person, five person show,” he said.

Another local theater group, Off-Monroe Players, said they’ve been feeling less heat from the pandemic, thanks to the help of local donors. They’ve also moved their 2020 season to 2021.

“We are very lucky that we are fiscally stable at this time,” said Brian Smith, Current President of Off-Monroe Players. Smith said they have been running a lot of archived videos of past productions, and plan on a one-act virtual play for November.

Both groups said some local state mandates are making the process difficult. For example, the recommended distance for singers and actors on the stage is 10 feet. “That’s the recommended space, because of projection and air droplets,” he said.

“We are worried about how we distance actors,” said Hoskins. “Because when you speak, you still project and expel a lot of saliva and push a lot of air out .. so there’s going to have to be a lot of re-configuring of the actors, how they’re staged,” he said.

Along with that, another state mandate is causing some stress. The state recently clarified a guidance that bans ticketed and non-incidental performance and music events.

For now, both groups say they’re just waiting on government leaders to come out with clear guidelines on how they can move forward with their craft, in a safe and confident way.

“Not just for artists, but for human beings, this [experience] is so not natural. We crave contact and socialization and as artists,” said Hoskins.

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