Community theater, poised and waiting in these uncertain times

Brand new sign installed for the celebratory 100th season of the Springfield Community Players. Photo provided

REGION – There have been five regularly performing community theater groups in the Bellows Falls-Springfield area for the last few years. They are all currently “on hold” because of COVID-19, and one may wonder what their plans are for coming back?

Main Street Arts of Saxtons River experienced a major disappointment when, just two days before opening, their big stage production of “Cabaret” was postponed before it was scheduled to open at the Bellows Falls Opera House Friday, March 13. The Walpole Players, right across the river, also canceled their annual one-night “Radio Follies,” a review of ’30s to ’50s radio skits and entertainment, scheduled for the next night. That same weekend Broadway theaters in New York announced they were “going dark.” And a student production of “Mama Mia” at Bellows Falls Union High School suffered the same fate.

“Cabaret” continues “on hold.” The scenery and props are still in place as is all the supplemental lighting and sound equipment that was brought in. Just this week, the costumes were cleared from the dressing area and taken to storage at the Main Street Arts building. They have now canceled what would have been their summer productions of “Noises Off” and “Hammered” along with the rest of their Great River Theater Festival, usually scheduled for July. The organization is “going dormant,” canceling all ongoing arts programming as of July as well. “Cabaret’s” rescheduling now depends in large part on what the town of Rockingham decides to do with reopening the Opera House.

A major disappointment has also been suffered by Springfield Community Players. They were to open their 100th anniversary season with a production of “Marjorie Prime” in May. They were ready for this momentous season, having installed a brand new awning over the front entrance and a new sign. And they were ready to showcase a number of renovations and upgrades that have been ongoing from grants and donations over the past couple years. They first canceled their opening production, hoping to then open with the musical “Drag” in July, but now they have canceled the entire four-show season and a gala celebration with antique cars, a barbecue, and tours of their facilities scheduled for September. They do still hope to hold an Anniversary Musical Review with songs from many of the musicals they have done Oct. 10,11, and 12. President John MacDonald says they are now doing a social media video competition.

Walpole Players did get in a mystery dinner production in February. Casting was already complete for a musical production of “Wind in the Willows” to run with Walpole’s Old Home Days in June. Both the play and the Old Home Days celebration have been canceled for this year, but hopefully both will happen next June. President Lisa Bryan says she has a couple scripts written for Zoom, and she is looking into a production in conjunction with Fact TV in Bellows Falls.

World Under Wonder in Ascutney had successful runs of the musical “Scrooge” in December and “The Vagina Monologues” in February. Artistic Director Samantha Maskell says they are now “biding our time and taking advantage of the talent we have with writing our own material.” Sean Edward Roberts, executive director, adds they are “looking to establish a drive-through puppet show in our parking lot along with digital presentations of original pieces.”

River Theater Company in Charlestown had its annual March Mystery Dinner in conjunction with the Rotary canceled this year. Board member Heidi Fagan says what may well sum up how all the groups feel. “We are committed to reopening. We just don’t know at what time and what shape it will happen. I am hopeful that reopening places and especially offering theater events will attract people who are looking for opportunities to get out and experience live theater again!”

In the meantime, most groups have maintained an online presence with various creative presentations, events, and programming.

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