Seats are empty, houses are silent and ghost lights stand sentinel on empty stages throughout metropolitan Detroit, as the theater community cancels rehearsals and performances, and indefinitely delays productions amid current Coronavirus concerns.
From high school auditoriums to the stage of the Fisher Theater, actors and technical theater folks are mourning the loss of their creative outlet, while at the same time understanding the need to cancel events which draw crowds, and the importance of keeping others at more than an arm’s length away.
KRISTA SCHAFER EWBANK, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, OPEN BOOK THEATRE COMPANY, TRENTON, SPEAKS OF HEARTBREAK, AND SUPPORTING ARTISTS
At Trenton’s Open Book Theatre Company, artistic director Krista Schafer Ewbank and the board of directors made the painful decision to cancel the run of “This Random World,” which had been slated for an April 17 to May 16 run.
Rehearsals had already begun for the show, set construction was underway and costumes lined the dressing room.
Ewbank said the board unanimously decided to pay the show’s artists the full amount of their contracts, despite the show not opening, which is in line with the company’s beliefs.
“This is a hard time for all of us, particularly artists who rely on a variety of gigs to pay bills,” Ewbank said. “Their art is the center of what we do. It is important to us to support them in this time.”
She said some of the artists told her that the board’s generosity will enable them to pay their rent.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Ewbank said. “That’s a huge burden lifted as they face this crisis.”
Ewbank said ticket holders can choose to accept a refund, or may make a donation to the theater to help offset its losses from the show’s cancellation.
She said she hopes the show can be rescheduled for next season, with a possible mid-September opening.
“Most of the artists will be able to return at that time,” Ewbank said. “We have really ambitious set, light and costume designs for this show, and it’s such a beautiful show about connection. While the themes of connection are always relevant, I think the show will resonate even more after what we are collectively experiencing with this ‘social distancing.’”
Ewbank said the actors and technicians were happy to have their art to focus on when the rest of the world was in chaos.
“Artists need to be creative, and theater is how we respond to the things in the world,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to have that taken away, although we all understand the need for ‘flattening the curve.’”
She said the time spent in rehearsal was a welcome respite from news of the outside world.
“For four hours, I didn’t check my Facebook or the news once,” Ewbank said. “I was able to just focus on the work, and what was in front of me.
“That is what theater gives me – that ability to focus and live entirely in the present. We will get through this, and make some incredible art out of it, but right now it’s just really hard.”
SCOTT MEYERS, SALES AND MARKETING, NEDERLANDER DETROIT, FEELS OPTIMISM AMID STRESS
At the Fisher Theater, where “Fiddler on the Roof” was cancelled three days after it opened, the run of “Dear Evan Hansen,” the Tony Award-winning musical, which was scheduled for March 25 to April 5, at the Fisher, was also cancelled.
In addition, “The Last Ship – The Musical,” with Sting, slated for April 22 to 26 at the Detroit Opera House, and “The Color Purple,” which was to have run April 21 to 26 at The Music Hall, were cancelled.
Scott Meyers, director of corporate sales and marketing for Nederlander Detroit, Broadway in Detroit and the Fisher Theater, said they are selling tickets for the 2020 – 2021 season, and optimistically hope to be able to present, “The Donna Summer Musical” June 9 to 21 at the Fisher Theater.
“We are following the recommendations from our local, state and federal governments, including the recommendations of the CDC, for the safety of our guests and employees,” he said. “We are doing our best to keep our spirits up, and are feeling the same kind of stress and concern as most employees around Detroit.”
Meyers said they are hoping they can reschedule “Dear Evan Hansen,” and are keeping their fingers crossed.
“We are in the middle of our subscription campaign, and are touching base with all of our subscribers, to make sure they know about the changes, and discuss our upcoming season,” he said. “Our goal is to reach as many of them as possible during this very unusual time.”
PAUL BRUCE, DEARBORN PLAYWRIGHT AND DIRECTOR, WAITS FOR THE NIGHTMARE TO END
Dearborn playwright and director Paul Bruce took two direct hits to his theatrical heart. First, Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” which he directed for the Players Guild of Dearborn, closed after one weekend of its planned three weekend run. Next, auditions for the through-composed musical he wrote and composed, “Little Women – A Little Musical,” which were slated for March 23 and 24, were cancelled, and the show’s run at Barefoot Productions in Livonia was postponed.
“When we are in the clear, and this nightmare is finished, I will alert everyone,” Bruce said with respect to the auditions. “Thank you for your support and interest. Hopefully, the heartbreak is only temporary, and we will all get to work together in the not too distance future.”
BAILEY BOUDREAU, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, SLIPSTREAM THEATRE INTITIATIVE, EXPRESSES CONCERN FOR AUDIENCES
Bailey Boudreau, artistic director of the Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Ferndale, said that in uncertain times, we are reminded why we do art in the first place.
“We have such incredible audiences here, and our first concern will always be their well-being,” Boudreau said. “At the same time, this may become an opportunity to discover ways to enhance the audience experience when we return.”