Twin Cities theaters cautiously open their curtains
Twin Cities stage legend Sally Wingert will perform a remount of Deborah Yarchun's "A Pickle," a solo show, at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company May 27-June 13. That Wingert is the only person onstage solves one of the issues — social distancing — that companies must contend with as they plan their in-person comeback.
Mixed Blood Theatre mitigates social distancing in the audience by producing "Animate," its big site-specific show, at the Como Zoo. Directed by theater founder Jack Reuler, the show features a cast of 18, including Wingert, Jevetta Steele, Bruce Young and Steve Yoakam. It opens in September.
Theaters also worry about HVAC systems, sanitizing surfaces and a host of concerns that few could have imagined a year and a half ago.
While a small company like MJTC can be nimble and pivot quickly, bigger houses need more lead time.
"It typically takes 18 weeks from our first concept meeting to opening night," said the Guthrie Theater's managing director, James Haskins. "That's a time frame we hope to condense a little bit. As a producing organization, we don't have actors on contract the way an orchestra has musicians on contract, so we have to start up the design, build, cast, rehearse."
The Guthrie's first big in-person show is a new version of the holiday favorite "A Christmas Carol." Work begins on the show in the summer.
"That has the potential to be a really great celebration" for the theater and the community, Haskins said. The Guthrie, like other big companies, also has to rehire staff.
Penumbra Theatre is coming back in person with its holiday show, "Black Nativity."
"We've got some summer co-projects with Ananya Dance Theatre and Pillsbury House Theatre that we hope will not be affected by COVID, but our biggest thing for us is something that's reassuring and that our supporters love."
"Nativity" will be followed by "Weathering," Harrison David Rivers' exploration of health outcomes for mothers of color.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres has the most aggressive schedule of the big companies. Its "Music Man" is slated to open on the July 4th weekend.
"Hamilton" was supposed to jump-start the Broadway season in Minneapolis but it has been postponed to spring 2023. Then last week "Come From Away," a musical about airline passengers stranded during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also was moved back (it now will run next January). So the season will kick off Oct. 7-24 with Disney's "Frozen," with Twin Cities actor Caroline Innerbichler in a starring role.
"When we talk about bringing in over 100,000 people a year and the economic impact of $120 million a year, those look like big, abstract numbers that we couldn't really visualize," said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which presents Broadway productions in Minneapolis.
"But with COVID, we're seeing the need, and that some of the things that we thought were ancillary, like people being together, are also essential to building community. We provide a literal stage for performers, and also a stage for citizens to see themselves in each other."
Some companies are still wary of doing in-person work or of announcing plans. They've had to cancel or postpone shows too often.
The Jungle Theater will do virtual shows this calendar year. Theater Latté Da has commissioned work and is using the pandemic to broaden the American repertory. The same is true for the Children's Theatre, which has beefed up its online presence and is finalizing its in-person plans.