Are you ready for some live performances?
Everyman Theatre hopes you are – with safety precautions, of course. And if you’re not, the theater has a plan for that too.
Because of COVID-19, Everyman is removing rows of seats, installing plastic barriers, and offering both in-person and online options for its 2020/2021 season.
“If you plan to come in, fantastic,” says Marissa LaRose, managing director. “If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s fine too. You can come later in the season, or you can watch at home. You can get an at-home subscription and just plan to get recordings of the six shows we’re doing, plus the six digital experiences we’re doing. That’s the major flexibility we are building in from the beginning.”
The theater at 315 West Fayette Street, is hoping for a November re-opening date for ‘Queens Girl: Black in the Green Mountains,’ starring resident company member Felicia Curry, though the actual opening date will depend on City of Baltimore pandemic restrictions.
The theater commissioned writer Caleen Sinnette Jennings to create the play as a follow-up to her popular ‘Queens Girl in the World’ and ‘Queens Girl in Africa.’
As it happens, all three are one-woman shows, which makes safety protocols such as testing and isolating the cast and crew easier, says LaRose. ‘Black in the Green Mountains’ is also not entirely new for Everyman. It played for a week before the theater closed in March, but will return with new staging to create more space between Curry and the audience.
“It was pure serendipity that we’re starting with a one-person show,” says LaRose, who began her job at Everyman on April 1, just as the city and nation were shutting down because of COVID-19.
If all goes according to plan, the season’s second play will be ‘Cry it Out,’ a comedy about parenting by Molly Smith Metzler. Then comes ‘Berta Berta,’ a love story set in 1920s Mississippi, written by Angelica Chéri; ‘Pipeline,’ a 2017 drama by Dominique Morisseau, about a mother fighting a school system that seems to be rigged against her teenage son; and adaptations of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Steel Magnolias.’
Live performances will be recorded for online viewing, and six digital offerings, including staged readings and a musical event, are also in the works, says LaRose.
The old caveat about best-laid plans seems more apt than ever these days.
Founding artistic director Vincent M. Lancisi has seen a lot of his plans come to fruition since he began Everyman in 1990, six months before graduating from Catholic University. But planning for a special 30th anniversary season amid a pandemic has been an entirely new test.
His goal from the start was to create a local theater with a resident company of actors working together to deliver nuanced stories. And he succeeded.
“At the beginning, we didn’t have a theater, we didn’t have money. We had chutzpah, big dreams and a big vision. I had to learn what it means to be a nonprofit how to fund-raise, and what boards do.”
Everyman’s first show was ‘The Runner Stumbles,’ about a priest on trial for the murder of a nun. The venue was St. John’s United Methodist Church of Baltimore, on St. Paul Street, vacant after a fire and with no heat – a problem in the waning days of October. The homeless shelter downstairs provided blankets for shivering patrons.
After five years of bouncing from one Baltimore venue to another, putting on one show a year, Everyman converted a former bowling alley on Charles Street to a 170-seat theater. It moved to its new, larger home in 2013.
With the new protocols, capacity will be between 80 and 100 people, instead of its usual seating of 250.
The COVID-imposed limitations are frustrating, but the alternative is worse, says LaRose. “Our choices are to operate and stay connected with Baltimore under these conditions or just go dark as long as it will take.”
And there are silver linings, says Lancisi. “I always wanted Everyman to be a place for everyone. The digital work is providing a level of access that live performances don’t allow. Even when we get back, virtual streaming and virtual theater are not going away.”