Local theater groups have mostly turned to online performances to continue shows during the pandemic.
“People really have been lovely and seem to appreciate something different rather than the same old reruns on TV,” said Melanie DelSole, who founded Meriden’s Castle Craig Players with her father and is now president of the theater’s Board of Directors.
With the community theater group’s stage on West Main Street shuttered, Castle Craig has launched a “Castle Craig On Air” series, adapting old radio plays streamed from actors’ homes.
Getting together a few basic props from around their homes, actors perform from kitchens and living rooms against simple backdrops. Rather than stage crews changing sets and drawing the curtain, the streaming software allows actors to be added and removed from the stream as their part comes up.
“It's a fun way to still put some live theater out there and we're trying to constantly think of ways we can do what we love and stay relevant, as much as we can in this crazy time,” DelSole said.
Actors have jumped on the chance to begin performing again, adjusting to new technology and new formats.
“The thing that’s incredibly different is you’re not in person, so you don't have someone to react (with) … theater is very personal,” DelSole said.
The first radio show — “All About Eve” — on May 28 was a fundraiser to make up for lost income and cover the bills. The theater was in the middle of its run of the play “Next to Normal” when the pandemic began to cause businesses to shut down, canceling the third weekend of the play.
“We found that people were incredibly generous,” DelSole said.
They followed up with a radio play rendition of “Arsenic and Old Lace” on June 18 and “Little Women” on Thursday. All of the performances can continue to be watched on the theater’s Youtube channel.
“A lot of these radio shows are based on either books or plays and they’re somewhat different than what people are used to,” DelSole said.
Square Foot Theatre is trying to bring some of its patrons back to its Wallingford playhouse by holding “Under the Stars” nights a few times a month, hosting musicians and performers near its tidied up rear loading area. Staff put down gravel, fencing and enough tables and seating for around 40 guests.
“Our big thing is we are just trying to stay connected with people,” said Jared Andrew Brown, the theater’s executive director.
Since playhouses aren’t addressed in any of the state’s reopening phases and holding a play typically involves groups of people in close quarters, Brown said it will likely be a significant amount of time before they’re able to host shows again. Even operating at half capacity likely would not be feasible, since actors count towards that threshold, bringing their audience down to a maximum of around 20 guests.
The first Under the Stars night, held Thursday, featured the duo Lunchbox playing classic rock. The performance was special for singer Tony Palluzzi, who has performed as an actor at Square Foot since 2012.
“It’s like a home away from home. I miss it,” he said.
Amanda Savio, president of the Southington Community Theatre’s board of directors, said live streaming performances can help people escape from the challenges of living in a pandemic.
“With everything that’s been going on, it’s been scary watching the news,” she said. “People are worried about their health and safety and that’s very consuming … Live performance is an experience you can have that takes you away from everything else that’s happening in your life.”
With auditions for its spring performance of “Seussical the Musical” cut short in March, Southington Community Theatre began offering video streams of its actors, and anyone who volunteered, singing show tunes. The songs were streamed on Facebook Live and typically ran about 10 minutes.
“It was just really fun and a lot of people watched and it felt really good in a time that was scary,” Savio said.
The theater typically performs a play in the fall, a holiday show in December and a musical around June. The group is discussing what form its fall production should take.
“People’s safety is the most important thing. We’re not going to go out there and put on a live performance when it's not completely safe,” she said.