Portland Stage has canceled its 25th anniversary live, in-theater production of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens due to the rise in COVID-19 community transmission coupled with breakthrough cases within its community. A digital on-demand stream will be available for viewing from Dec. 18-Jan. 4.

Portland Stage’s stringent COVID-19 safety protocols are in place to protect not only the audience, volunteers, apprentices, artists, and staff but its unmasked actors as well. The safety measures include mandatory vaccination and masking by all individuals in the facility, except unmasked actors on stage. Any production team member who has had close contact with a positive COVID-19 case is required to isolate and follow a five-day antigen testing regimen that culminates in a PCR test.

During “A Christmas Carol” rehearsals, an individual working in the rehearsal room tested positive for COVID-19. Portland Stage immediately canceled rehearsals. During its rigorous testing protocols, several individuals who had socialized with the affected person tested positive with COVID-19. The follow-up screening procedure revealed that those who had followed the theater safety protocols and had no outside social contact with their infected co-worker did not contract the virus.

Portland Stage Covid Compliance Officer and Finance Director Martin Lodish said, “as hard as this experience has been, what we have learned is that masking and following the CDC rules for behavior works to control spread. We are successfully recovering from this incident, but as much as Portland Stage would like to return to business as usual, we recognize that with the increased transmission rate in our state, we need to pivot to providing our production of “A Christmas Carol” to a digital-only format. As cases of COVID in our community rise, our goal is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Executive and Artistic Director Anita Stewart said, “Producing a video version of the show allows our artists to share their creative work and also ensures that we present it in a way that is safe for both the artists and our audiences. This choice was not easy to make. I know how engaging live performance can be. I was reading heartfelt emails from the young company in the production who desperately wanted to continue with the show. From a budget standpoint, Portland Stage had invested tens of thousands of dollars in mounting this production. But instead of staying the course and blindly moving forward with the live production despite the potential health consequences, or closing down and laying everyone off, which given the message of the play where Scrooge recognizes that caring for those in need is what makes life worth living, we have chosen a third option. To keep the artistic team employed, suffer the financial hit, and create an online version that will support our artists and keep both actors and audiences safe. Our hope is that enough people will choose to view this online version to help mitigate the loss.”

“So, the show will go on, but safely and respectfully,” Stewart adds, “We hope people invest in our community by choosing to gather around our 25th Anniversary Christmas Carol production in their homes. We know there is much competition online, but viewership is a vote for the home team.”

Having already produced seven successful live productions during the pandemic, Portland Stage is looking forward to returning to live performances at the end of January with “Senior Living,” written by Tor Hyams and Lisa St. Lou. Portland Stage remains committed to ensuring the health and safety of its cast, crew, and audiences.

Portland Stage promotes and celebrates the creation of new plays with an environment that supports the region’s playwrights, builds bridges between its theater and national writers, and develops awareness of theater.

Tickets are $25 online or call the box office for Pay-What-You-Can. Tickets can be purchased online at tinyurl.com/2p8btenc. For more information, email [email protected]

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