Guest Column: Theatre production challenges

Helen Keller (Lilac Buckser) learns the word for water from her teacher Annie Sullivan (Alexis Velasquez). (Courtesy photo)

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By Jesse Akers
Director for Miracle Worker, President of Winters Theatre Company Board
Special to the Express

Winters Theatre Company had put together a very challenging dramatic production. It does have its light moments, too. This production is blessed with very devoted performers that sincerely want to give the audience the best they can by creating believable characters. We also have well designed and crafted sets, period furniture, sound, music and beautifully made period costumes that bring the audience into the story. Hours of rehearsal was prefaced by hours of memorization at home. After weeks of practice, the production enters into what is called “Tech Week,” that is, one full week of doing the show every night to fully “get the bugs out,” before opening night. It is mentally and physically exhausting for everyone. It is exhausting in the good sense, like finishing a hard run race, completing a difficult composition, or completing the entire harvest on time.

This year we did all of the work to give the best performance we could of “The Miracle Worker.” It was completely ready to give to the audience. Tickets were sold, the desserts were in the kitchen, tables and chairs were dressed and set. One of our players was not feeling 100 percent, but, often we have had “troopers” ill and still able go on. That is where “break-a-leg” comes from. (A doctor visit proved no coronavirus).

However, this year the wave of caution was fast gaining on us. During tech week restaurants were closing. Cinemas were closing. Other theatres were closing. Schools were closing. I was confident that we were OK. We spaced the audience at four people to each nine-person table. The tables were spaced. Tissues were on each table as was hand sanitizer. People in the company were suggesting we postpone the show, but not the cast. I wanted to keep going. Too much work had been done. Too much effort was invested. The show was truly a piece of living art. If we postponed the show, no one would ever see it. We had to open the show.

On Friday of opening night, March 13, I began to wonder if I was being a “trooper” and keeping this beautiful thing going, or was I just bullheaded and being reckless. After consulting my trusted advisers, at 2:30 p.m. on opening day, four hours before call-time, the cast was contacted canceling opening night, a very, very devastating decision.

During the vital months in “lock-down,” the cast started read-throughs of the show’s lines using ZOOM virtual meeting room. The cast enjoys seeing each other and chatting before we start. After the reading starts the show begins to live again. Just like any caring group, we miss each other. We are still keeping spirits up reflecting on all the work we put into the show. Now, however, our encounters are virtual.

The beautiful set was on the stage just as we left it, in its own quiet “lock-down” till one morning at the end of June. We had to take it down in sections to store it till we can put the show on. We’re all hoping to open the show next March. That will mean the show will reach one-year postponement. The date the “lock-down” is lifted will determine when the show can continue. Currently, the Community Center is closed except for “Meals on Wheels.”

Normally WTC produces five shows each year. There are a lot of devoted people involved in putting a production together. We are all volunteers. The company gives the net profits back to the community by monetarily supporting different service organizations or groups such as the music boosters and arts in the schools, Friends of the Library and different senior citizens organizations. The biggest challenge of being active people in theatre is that it’s very hard to stay home and wait.

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