MADISON — The show will go on, but the 120th season at Lakewood Theater in Madison will operate differently this summer due to restrictions brought on by COVID-19.

The season, which typically starts at the end of May, will now begin in August and feature four plays instead of the usual nine productions.

The theater will also operate under strict health and safety guidelines implemented by the governor and the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

“When we went into this shutdown, we thought, ‘What could we do?'” said Susan Quinn, who runs the Lakewood Theater and restaurant with her husband, Jeff. “It became apparent pretty quickly we wouldn’t open at the end of May, as usual, so we began to look at the restrictions.

“We’re working on how to keep everyone safe starting with social distancing for the cast during rehearsals. There will be sanitizing stations. We’re going to block off every other row of seats. Between parties, there will be three empty seats from person to person. And we’re going to reroute entrances and exits to make sure everyone gets in and out safely.” 

And at the theater that can seat 500, only 50 audience members will be allowed per performance, according to Quinn.

This year’s season begins Aug. 6 with a performance of “Opening Night,” which is scheduled to run until Aug. 15.

The other shows in the season’s lineup: “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van,” “Something Fishy” and “But Why Bump Off Barnaby?”

Quinn said the lineup will not feature musicals this year because singing increases the potential of spreading the coronavirus. Instead, the season will feature comedic plays to bring audience members some fun and positive themes during a stressful time.

“We very quickly realized we couldn’t do the musicals because singing brings that risk of having droplets come out of someone’s mouth and spread,” Quinn said. “That kind of performance could be a risk, so we decided people needed to laugh, and as a group we needed to have some fun (and) bring some humor and entertainment to everybody.

“And we believe if we can open and give people something to do, it will be a win all around. They can come enjoy themselves and we can put on shows and create.”

Quinn said opening at a reduced capacity is a risk, but one she is willing to take.

“We’ve pushed it to August and we hope some restrictions might be lifted. We know things might change and we might have to scrap everything, but we’re willing to take that risk,” Quinn said. “We think its worth it. We’ve received a lot of donations to keep going, but, also, we will be very thoughtful and careful about the production costs.

“We don’t want the production to suffer, but we’ll be very careful about reusing and repurposing things so we don’t think we’ll go backwards on having only 50 people.”

The theater is a nonprofit organization and relies heavily on individual donations, according to information on its website.

In addition to the theater, the Lakewood Inn Restaurant has also opened for the season.

We’ve opened the restaurant that’s limited seating for dining 50 people,” Quinn said. “We’re also doing takeout, and we’re looking at beginning a delivery service. Opening the restaurant was pretty much the same as ever, but with a little less ordering. We’re being very careful not get too much ahead of ourselves.”

For Susan Quinn, the modified season is a symbol of staying positive.

“We’re being optimistic,” she said. “Sometimes you have to work hard at that optimism, but you have a choice to say: ‘We’ll make it work’ or ‘No, this is the worst. We can’t do it.’ And we’re making a conscious effort to be positive.”

The Lakewood Theater at 76 Theater Road in Madison opened in 1901 and is the longest-running summer theater in the country, closing only for two years during World War II.

During the summer of 1985, the theater was turned into a nonprofit partnership between Jeff Quinn and actors Marti Stevens and Bruce Hertz. Together, the three formed Curtain Up Enterprises, which is now run by Jeff Quinn after Stevens died and Hertz ended his involvement.

“We’re going to keep it going,” Quinn said, “as long as we can.”

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