Local arts organizations have had to pivot sharply because of the COVID-19 pandemic but hope to pivot back toward live performances this year.
Mariah Schierer, director of the Performing Arts Center on the College of The Albemarle-Elizabeth City campus, said COA theater arts found a new way last year to reach the community through an online platform.
COA has performed three shows so far this season.
“It has been really well received.” she said. “People have been really excited to take this journey with us.”
Schierer said COA didn’t change its schedule for the fall season; it instead changed the shows that were presented. Because of COVID restrictions it was not possible to produce big musicals, she explained.
Currently only 25 people can be in the Performing Arts Center and back in September, when the theater season started, the limit was 10 people, she said.
There was no Veterans Day show this year because that show is so dependent on a live audience, she said.
But “Ghost of Rhodes Manor” was performed as a puppet show and “Noises Off” had a cast of only eight people — both creative solutions to the challenges of presenting theater in the midst of the pandemic, Schierer said.
“Elf” was presented in December.
The next COA show, “Leaving Iowa,” will be performed March 5-7. Auditions for “Leaving Iowa” will be held Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The show is a comedy that has a small cast. “So it fits within COVID regulations,” Schierer said.
While the plan is still to stream the show online, the Performing Arts Center also is hoping to have a limited live audience for that show.
“We are hoping for the best and planning for the worst,” Schierer said.
The audience will be limited based on whatever the COVID-19 restrictions are at the time, and “we are also planning for a completely online platform if we have to do that,” she said.
PAC is also planning for a show in late April. The title will be announced later because the contract has not been signed yet.
Over the next month or so the college will work on its 2021-22 theater season.
Some of the changes made during the pandemic will continue even after live audiences return, Schierer said.
“We have found new and creative ways to do things,” she said. “We can continue much of it after we return to normal. Adapt, adapt, adapt — that is what we do.”
Schierer said that thanks to generous support from the community, PAC is doing better than theaters in many other places.
People can contact the COA Foundation office about becoming a PAC sponsor, she said.
“Any donations will help,” Schierer said. “Arts is suffering everywhere right now just because of the nature of not having a live audience. Arts always falls through the cracks when things like this go down. But we are doing our best to keep the machine running.”
Laurie Edwards, executive director of Arts of the Albemarle, said 2020 was “pretty odd” but community fundraising helped keep the organization’s finances OK.
“Our members really came through,” Edwards said. “They were really wonderful to help AoA.”
The N.C. Arts Council also helped tremendously and the nonprofit has not had to lay anyone off.
AoA’s gallery has reopened and hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“You have to wear a mask,” Edwards said, pointing out the new requirement for browsing the gallery.
The gallery features beautiful works and will have all new works beginning in February, she said.
Like many other organizations that have relied on technology during the pandemic, AoA used video to help present the Center Players’ recent “Letters to Scrooge” show.
AoA hired a videographer to record each child’s parts at separate times to maintain social distancing, and then edited the performances together into a final presentation.
“They never interacted with the staff,” she said, referring to Center Players performers.
The final result was all AoA could have hoped for, she said.
“The show is fantastic,” Edwads said, noting it can be viewed at AoA’s channel on YouTube.
Edwards said Center Players is planning to use the same format for a show this spring.
The show will be a musical review, she said, but children who don’t sing can dance, and children who neither sing nor dance can perform a dramatic monologue.
“We work with each child individually to see what they would like to do and work with them on that,” she said. “They can dream and they can imagine. We can help them along the way.”
If the vaccine does what everyone hopes it will, some live events may return in the summer, Edwards said.
The organization has planned a lot for this year but will be “loading it into the fall” since programs take months to plan, she said. Planning is already taking place for New Year’s Eve this year and for a holiday-themed show.
AoA can’t host its Third Thursday Jazz series yet but is working to figure out what it can do to bring live jazz performances back once COVID restrictions loosen. One possibility being considered is a several-days jazz festival, possibly to be held in the fall, Edwards said.
“I want to do what the community wants us to do and I’m happy to listen,” she said.
Edwards said AoA is beginning to book weddings for the fall and she hopes by that time the COVID situation will have improved enough that those events will be able to go forward as planned.
Mary Cherry, president of Encore Theatre Co., said the community theater group did not perform this past year and currently is “in the process of rebooting.”
Encore has sold its building and is reorganizing, all with the ultimate goal of resuming live performances.
“We will be back but probably not until late fall,” Cherry said. She said the exact date of any future shows will depend on the pandemic.
In the meantime, she said, she would welcome anyone who is interested in community theater to call her and discuss opportunities with Encore. Her number is 267-3327.
“We always welcome anybody,” Cherry said. Anybody interested in working in community theater, with or without experience, is welcome to join the group, she said.
Cherry said the theater group hopes to begin holding meetings again in late spring or summer, depending on what happens with the pandemic and the vaccination program.