Scott Parsons stands in front of the Norway Grange Hall, home of the Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association. Parsons, a member of the board of directors, says that the group is hoping to hold productions later this year. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Community Litte Theater in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — For community theaters in the state, the outbreak of COVID-19 has made for some impossible choices. According to John Blanchette, president of the Lewiston Auburn Community Little Theatre, the choice was made to cancel the theater’s spring musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and “You Can’t Take it With You,” a comedic play.

“We were on a great roll this year until the coronavirus hit,” said Blanchette.

The cancellation of the production, five weeks into a 10-week rehearsal period, has significant financial implications for the theater. According to Blanchette, the money already put into the production can’t be recouped.

“That money is pretty much gone,” said Blanchette.

Scott Parsons, board director of Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Alliance, a small community theater in Norway, said a musical can cost up to $10,000 in total, including rights bought from licensing companies, royalties, and costumes among other expenses.

OHMPAA, about to start rehearsing “Circle Mirror Transformation,” a drama by Annie Baker, is hoping to return to normal by September, when the theater is slated to put on it’s fall musical, “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

For OHMPAA, the fall musical is usually a sellout, but the question of when — and if — audiences will be comfortable returning to performances looms large.

“Best case scenario is having a fall show, but people will be hesitant, I think. I would normally plan on that show being a sellout,” said Parsons.

That question looms large for Blanchette as well. He said LACLT is working on surveying audience members to see when they would be comfortable coming back to the theater.

He said a theater in the Washington, D.C., area recently conducted a poll and found that most audiences wouldn’t be comfortable returning to performances until at least September.

But Blancette said the risk posed to audiences and cast members has to be carefully calculated before the theater can resume operations. Of course, many cast and crew members are, as Blanchette said, “chomping at the bit” to come back to performing as soon as possible. But some cast and crew members are in the high-risk demographic — as are many of LACLT’s audience base.

“Our average audience age is well within that framework of people who are at higher risk . It’s tough to balance those significant safety issues with the desire to be out there performing,” said Blanchette.

Parsons said OHMPAA is a tight knit community, where everyone knows everyone. OHMPAA’s Board of Directors met over Zoom for the first time last month, and Parsons said being apart is emotional.

“We are family and we don’t get to be together. Just like I miss my my daughter and my grandkids, I miss my theater family,” said Parsons.

Blanchette said that for every play or musical about to start rehearsing, uncounted hours of time and effort have already been put in by directorial teams. Simply canceling all of the current season’s shows would be a waste of time and talent.

“They’ve been eating sleeping and breathing it already. Do you have all that time and dedication and all that great artistic juju go to waste?”

For LACLT, the answer was no.

But the solution wasn’t as simple as pushing shows back into the next season. A lot of thought goes into selecting shows and making sure seasons are balanced.

“I’m just trying to find that right mix. We don’t want a season that are geared towards men and have nothing for the women,” said Blanchette. So the idea is to push the canceled season’s shows to 2022.

Some of the same people may not be available. Things could change, but we’re seeing if we could incorporate those,” said Blanchette.

 Blanchette has also been fielding questions about livestreaming shows, or putting on virtual events and concerts at the theater. While some cast members are uploading monologues and performing karaoke on Facebook, LACLT lacks the resources to stream a play.

“People think performing is performing, but it isn’t. We are not set up well for a live event … we don’t have the equipment and all of the resources necessary to do a really good job with that. We just do not have those resources, because the theater is not the same as a television studio,” said Blanchette. 

OHMPAA has likewise canceled smaller events — like improv troupe performances — and said they’re trying to sell merchandise on Facebook in order to make some money during these uncertain times.

But it’s hard to make plans when the status of the pandemic changes rapidly, and the theater is in a state of stasis until restrictions are lifted.

“It’s so new to us, we don’t know what to expect. We’re taking it one day at a time,” said Parsons. “We’re hoping to have at least some of the season because we’re going to be celebrating our 35th season this year. We’re in a holding pattern.” 

And for LACLT, which remained operational through World War II, these times are completely unprecedented.

“This stopped us in our tracks. We’re trying to find our footing and the best way to move forward while recognizing the key components of safety for our audiences,” said Blanchette.


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