BWW Feature: Live Theatre Triumphantly Returns to the SCERA with THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL was nearly ready to open in the indoor theatre at the SCERA Center for the Arts when the show was postponed indefinitely as the world shut down in March.
After Utah moved into the yellow phase, allowing for the reopening of businesses with careful precautions and social distancing, the SCERA found itself in a unique situation. As a non-profit community theatre with a large outdoor theatrical space that has no permanent seats, it does not face some of the same issues as other theatres do this summer, such as enclosed venues, inflexible seating configurations, and maintaining profitability with limited capacity. The SCERA realized it would be able to comply with state and local guidelines, keeping audiences safe while also providing them the live theatrical experience they've been unable to indulge in for several months.
An outdoor production of MAMMA MIA! originally slated for June that had not been able to begin rehearsals due to the quarantine was pushed to a future season, and THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL was rescheduled for the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre, requiring expansion of sets and re-blocking for the much larger stage.
"Learning that our show was going to be postponed, and possibly cancelled, was difficult for all of us," said McKenna Thomas, who stars as Marguerite. "Those months of uncertainty were hard. I am so incredibly proud of my cast and crew for being able to jump back in so quickly as soon as the call came to continue. It was a lot like riding a bike--with some review we quickly got right back to where we were before rehearsals stopped."
The audience was also ready and waiting to get back to a semblance of normal, with hundreds in attendance opening night as if theatre had never left. But reminders were everywhere that normal is still a way off and caution is still necessary, with signs asking theatregoers to remember six feet of social distancing and many following the SCERA's advice to wear masks.
Logistically the precautions went very smoothly, from reduced capacity in ticket sales, to a special line allowing higher risk audience members to enter first, to the strategically designed seating arrangements. Sanitized plastic chairs were placed in clusters based on the specific numbers within reserved ticket-purchasing groups with plenty of distance between them, along with well-marked aisles. General admission ticketholders placed their own chairs and blankets far apart from other groups.
"The rehearsal process has been very careful," said Thomas. "We wear masks and use hand sanitizer in between scenes, and we get our temperature checked when we arrive. The decision to move to the outdoor theatre was made in part to allow people to spread out and not be in an enclosed space. There are several hand sanitizer stations set up, and the crew are working hard to make sure bathrooms and other common areas are consistently deep cleaned and sanitized. There's still so much uncertainty, so we are being very, very careful with how we proceed."
After three months of anticipation for the cast, crew, and audience, a power outage in the neighborhood threatened to again cancel the opening night performance, but the power miraculously came back just before the start time. The show was able to proceed with only a minimal delay despite several lost hours of preparation.
And after the dearth of opportunities to attend a performance in person, it was electrifying to hear live singing again and express appreciation communally through applause.
The SCERA produces community theatre at its best, and THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is no exception, providing an enjoyable evening out with impressive talent and production values.
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (book and lyrics by Nan Knighton, music by Frank Wildhorn) is an adventure romance based on the classic works of Baroness Orczy. Set to the backdrop of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, it boasts a thrilling story and score. Englishman Percy Blakeney is secretly the Scarlet Pimpernel, who rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine. But when he learns that his new wife, Marguerite, sent a marquis and his family to their deaths, he must face the danger without her by his side.
Thomas is luminous as Marguerite with crystalline vocals. Scott Hendrickson seems born to play Percy with foppish flair and powerful singing. They join Josh Egbert, who lends his rich baritone voice and imposing presence to Chauvelin.
With little exception, the lush period costuming by Deborah Bowman is far beyond the typical community theatre fare and the choreography by Lindsey Folkman adds welcome layers of movement. The expanded set by Shawn M. Herrera is successful in its thoughtful versatility, and the lighting by Emma Belnap sets the stage nicely, including one particularly impactful guillotine reveal.
Director/music director DeLayne Bluth Dayton deserves kudos for keeping the production together, functioning, and successful as it adapted to the new world it found itself in.
"Knowing we're among the first theatres to reopen has helped us all be extra careful," said Thomas. "We are well aware that all eyes are on us to see if we're able to pull this off, which in some ways is a lot of pressure, but I also choose to see it as a wonderful opportunity to show just how much people need theatre during difficult times."
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL plays through June 20, 2020. The summer season will continue with WILLY WONKA and THE MUSIC MAN. For tickets, call the box office at 801-225-ARTS (2787) or visit www.scera.org.
Photo Credit: L-R Josh Egbert (Chauvelin), Scott Hendrickson (Percy), McKenna Thomas (Marguerite). Photo by Rachael Gibson.
From This Author Tyler Hinton
Tyler Hinton has been a contributing editor at BroadwayWorld since January 2012. He has a BA from Brigham Young University (BYU) with an emphasis in
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