Rhode Island Theaters, On Hold, Vow to Endure

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 25, 2020

The Rhode Island theater scene has been in limbo for nearly three weeks due to the coronavirus. Providence's Trinity Repertory Company cancelled the remaining performances of "A Tale of Two Cities" as well as the remaining shows of their 2019-2020 season: the Lynn Nottage drama "Sweat" and the popular musical "Sweeney Todd."

"It was extremely disappointing since 'Sweat' was a week away from being on stage," said Trinity's Artistic Director Curt Columbus. "We rehearsed for three weeks. The scenery was built. The costumes were on racks. The lights were in the air."

Preparations for May's "Sweeney Todd" were also pretty far along as well.

"I've been spending months and months of pre-planning, our music director sent out all of the music so that folks could get a jump on it before first rehearsal," Columbus said.

Executive Director Tom Parrish noted performances of "A Tale Of Two Cities" are being streamed free for patrons who bought tickets to the cancelled performances.

Parrish said the company's employees have been guaranteed four weeks of pay during the shutdown. The actors in "Sweat" and "Sweeney Todd" will also be compensated.

"It's a devastating blow to Trinity artistically and financially," Parrish said. "Hopefully it will be a less devastating blow to the staff and artists who were impacted."

Columbus said next season's schedule is still in flux. He doesn't know whether "Sweat" or "Sweeney Todd" will be performed during the 2020-2021 season.

"'Sweeney' has been a passion project of mine for a long time," Columbus said. "It's just a matter of the logistics. We'll know in a couple of weeks."

The Gamm Theatre, based in Warwick, cancelled the remaining performances of another Sondheim musical, "Assassins."

"We are hoping that 'Assassins' can find its way back to the stage sometime this summer," said Artistic Director Tony Estrella. "The cast and crew are committed and hopeful. And we are working hard on scheduling but it is still a moving target. We had a fun online reunion Q&A on Friday and there will be more virtual activity yet to keep the camaraderie and connection among the cast alive and well."

Smaller theaters have also been impacted by the epidemic.

Providence's Wilbury Theater Group had to cancel their production of "Miss You Like Hell" just days after opening. Artistic Director Josh Short explained Wilbury has changed their programming to an online streaming model for the foreseeable future.

"I can't speak for other theaters, but I can tell you that our plan is to hunker down, minimize expenses, and wait out the situation until we're able to return to regular programming," said Short. "I'm grateful that our organization has been able to make the pivot towards streaming our classes and performances, and I feel extremely fortunate that we're part of a community that values our work and will support is through this."

Woonsocket's RISE Playhouse was preparing to present the Oscar Wilde classic "The Importance of Being Earnest." Writer/director Lenny Schwartz, who serves as chairman of the RISE board, says the show may still go on at a later date.

Schwartz's new play, "An American History of Guns," has been postponed from April to June.

"This show is very important to me as well as the cast and we were having amazing rehearsals," Schwartz noted. "But the well being of the people in the world, and I mean everyone, is important. We must wash our hands and stay home."

Head Trick Theatre, which performs at AS220 in downtown Providence, was forced to cancel their production of "Lucky Chance" which had been scheduled for March 27.

Director Rebecca Maxfield notes the cancellation "has obviously been a huge blow to us, emotionally and financially."

However, Maxfield remains optimistic about the future: "Head Trick will get through this because we have no permanent staff to pay and no fixed address to pay rent on — other small theatres that have more expenses may not fare so well."

"I plan to be the one of the first people out of the gate," Schwartz said. "It's important more than ever for the theatres to be ready to get out there as soon as they can and push the reset button and go."

"If we're able to come out of this in a couple of months, I do think people are going to be hungry for what I will call 'live arts,'" Columbus said.

"I don't think any of us know what the landscape will look like in the next months," Estrella added. "I do know we'll need all the help and support we can get."

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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