For a virus that requires physical distancing to stop the spread, one industry that continues to be disadvantaged more than others over the past year has been theater.
Between the singing and dancing, plus the close proximity and physicality of actors – stage productions went from high drama to high-risk. And so when the spotlights dimmed last March for rehearsals and productions by community theater groups around the county, for many – it’s remained dark.
For the Oregon Straw Hat Players, it’s been a quiet year, president Stephanie Drahozal told the Observer. The theater group is hoping to put on a couple of virtual events in the next few months, she added.
The group was in the middle of rehearsals for the school edition of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” when the statewide Safer At Home order went into effect last March. That show was originally set for April, and was tentatively rescheduled for August, but as spring turned to summer and COVID-19 cases continued to rise, staff postponed the show indefinitely.
But while ticket sales and promotions had begun for Sweeney Todd, staff canceled another production planned for 2020, “Shrek The Musical,” before it could be cast.
Though Drahozal said both those shows could still be part of a future season, she said it’s still unlikely the group can do any big productions like those this year. Because of the continued pandemic, she’s hoping it’s possible for the group to produce a small cabaret-style show with individual singing solos, among other smaller in-person shows becoming a possibility. She’s feeling encouraged by the promising news of vaccinations.
Also, at the most recent Players’ board meeting, leadership talked about doing a virtual play reading series. That would be much less formal than normal productions, but the intention is to keep the actors connected as a group, Drahozal said.
That will be dependent on actor interest, Drahozal said, and the board is still figuring out logistics. Drahozal said they’d call out for actors interested in participating in a script reading, but the plan isn’t to rehearse at all, as it’d be impromptu.
Usually, the organization’s summer show is the Players’ biggest production every year. The group is most active during summer, Drahozal said, but puts on two or three shows a year – one bigger all-ages show, and then one or two smaller plays that are youth-focused.
What has felt especially weird for the group, Drahozal said, is that with its youth members not having options in school to do theater, either, its young thespians are not participating in anything right now.
“It’s very weird no matter the venue or group,” Drahozal said. “Things are kind of off for everyone.”
And without ticket sales, the organization has been relying on its “Shining Stars” donation program for revenue, although there haven’t been many expenses.
“We haven’t had to pay for much, things are just closed down,” she said.
Adding to the lack of revenue, the Players did not get any arts or cultural grants in 2020 and did not do any fundraising outside of its usual yearly drives such as Giving Tuesday.
Two years ago, it finished paying off its building on Market Street. Though that space only serves as a small office and storage space, the group doesn’t have its own rehearsal or performance space yet, Drahozal said.
Typically, the group stages its productions at the Oregon High School Performing Arts Center, but also has performed at local elementary schools.
Drahozal said a big thing that has been on the mind of the group’s board is the Players has outgrown its current space. But the conversations around finding and fundraising for a new building have slowed down and become dormant.
With the PAC becoming increasingly busy, it has gotten more challenging to get space and time there, Drahozal said. But she said the Players maintain a good relationship with the school.
The board’s end goal is to use the PAC for its big summer show and have other options for its smaller shows.
“A new storage and rehearsal space are things we definitely want to make happen – hopefully in the next few years,” she said.