The Seacoast Repertory Theatre to Present CABARET and More, Aims For Re-Opening
The Seacoast Repertory Theatre is carefully planning to resume its mainstage production schedule on July 31 with Cabaret, the award-winning musical that asks, "what good is sitting alone in your room? come hear the music play."
Cabaret looks back to the vibrant life of Berlin as Hitler and World War II began to transform the German capital for generations. By the time the pandemic lockdown eases and the curtain goes up on Cabaret in Portsmouth, COVID-19 may well have changed U.S. society, the arts, and the Seacoast Rep in ways that endure for generations.
The Rep, which has switched to offering regular livestream programming during the pandemic, intends to be ready to welcome audiences back in the house. Nevertheless, a long recovery is likely for the Rep and other Seacoast arts organizations.
"Our mainstage season should re-open with Cabaret and then proceed according to schedule, but with more precautions, after that," Seacoast Rep Executive Director Kathleen Cavalaro said. "We're putting together a plan that we think is realistic."
"I'm confident," Cavalaro said. "But it's going to take us all a year or two to recover."
The mechanics for reopening to live audiences, such as seating configurations, are still being developed.
"We're going to wait and see what the experts are recommending, what's possible, and also what patrons are wanting, and we'll take it from there," she said. "We are used to a high tempo of production so we can react fairly quickly."
In the meantime, The Rep has secured licenses for a limited run of fully-produced musicals. In what they have called The Wonder Series, The Rep will produce four jukebox musicals by Roger Bean - The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On, and The Andrews Brothers from May 15th - July 5th, with a new musical offered every week.
"These performances are truly live," says artistic director Brandon James. "You can only see it with a ticket at the time that it's performed. Every week we will recreate the same musical five times. Nothing is pre-recorded. It will be like being there. Full band. Full production. Clear picture."
The Seacoast Rep rapidly put together a three camera setup with lighting and sound that could be operated by a crew of three at most. Their limited team has been working on the technology since mid March.
"It's important that we get it right," says James. "If the quality isn't there, it doesn't work. We think it's there."
The Seacoast Rep shut down to live audiences after the weekend of March 14-15, in the middle of a well-received run of A Chorus Line. State-ordered restrictions, health precautions and logistical concerns forced the theater to scrap scheduled productions of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Urinetown and Hello Dolly.
"We were disappointed as our cancelled shows went from one, to two, to three, including what would have been probably some of the best shows we've done," said Brian Kelly, director of marketing and development. "Just the logistics of contacting all those patrons and taking care of them is more customer service than our box office might have to do in a year."
Nevertheless, the theater has kept the lights on and the stage pulsing with innovative theater by swiftly shifting gears to put on shows via live online streaming.
"Nobody was saying we had to close. They just said people couldn't gather," said Brandon James, who shares the artistic director role with Ben Hart. "We looked at that as a limitation and a challenge. It just meant we have to change the delivery system -- they can't come here, so how do we go to them?"
"What we're presenting is new. We're giving a live performance just like we would give if you were sitting in the seats," James said.
The biggest hit has been the Friday "Cabaret Nights,", not to be confused with the production of Cabaret the musical, featuring performances from core artistic staff who perform at the theater, and guests who appear via remote links. Other hits include a Saturday morning "Drag Queen Story Time" and a Sunday night variety hour.
The Rep also is offering classes in performing arts, fitness and meditation, and it has put up an online radio station on its web site, playing show tunes, radio dramas and other programming.
Thousands of viewers have tuned in from every U.S. state and around the world, including from nursing homes and schools. Viewers have been donating and joining the Rep's new Patreon membership program, helping to cushion some of the blow of lost ticket sales.
They also have provided continued employment for the staff of administrators, artistic leaders and resident artists, and opportunities have also opened for some members of the community. This includes actress Holly Dayton, who was stranded when A Chorus Line closed, unable to return to the New York she had sublet. So she stayed on in Portsmouth, offering dance meditation and fitness classes for the Rep and performing on "Cabaret Night."
Even after the Seacoast Rep reopens to live audiences and the cast of Cabaret takes the stage, the online programming is likely to continue and serve the new fans it has won.
Among the likely candidates for continued live streams are the "Drag Haus" drag shows staged as part of the Rep's Red Light Series. An online "Drag Haus" staged before the safety logistics got too complicated brought in revenues well above what the series normally brings in in its live performances.
"Ít's certainly going to be incorporated into our business plan," James said.
Like Cavalaro, Hart expressed confidence that the Seacoast Rep will weather the storm.
"If there's a silver lining it's that we're going to come out on the other side stronger," he said. "The community has been incredibly supportive. We all know that we're going to make it through and when we're on the other side, with the skills we've developed, the organization will be better for it."
More information on livestreamed musicals and events can be found at www.seacoastrep.org.