Live theater, including Fall Follies and Columbus professional theater productions, returns to the stage.
BY MATTHEW DORON, ’23. GRAPHICS BY MEGAN MCKINNEY, ’22. PHOTO BY BELLA VANMETER, ’22.
The 74th Tony Awards, Broadway’s most famous awards show, was held on Sept. 26 after being delayed due to COVID-19 safety concerns. The awards ceremony and the reopening of Broadway have marked a new fall theater season both nationally and in Columbus and UA.
On Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, the vocal music department performed “No Place Like Home,” the first in person Fall Follies since October 2019.
Vocal music director Brandon Moss said that for all choir performances, students are required to wear masks.
“Singing, as you may have heard, is a little bit more of a spreadable activity than maybe just talking or some other activities. We try our best to be safe by keeping students at a pretty good distance,” Moss said. “We’re going to try to make it as normal as possible.”
He said that while performing with masks may be inconvenient, the vocal music students are well-practiced in performing while wearing them.
“I don’t think it’s anybody’s preference [to sing in a mask] but, you know, it’s just what we need to do to keep safe and to follow procedures and safety protocols,” Moss said.
Junior KK Murphy, who performs in Vocal Ensemble, Belcanto and Symphonic Choir, believes that wearing masks does not alter a performance.
“I don’t really think that [wearing masks] has much of a difference on the performance quality; it’s just to stay safe. I think it’s necessary.” Murphy said that Fall Follies was her first live, indoor performance with a full audience since February 2020.
“I’m so excited that theater’s coming back and hopefully if everybody continues to be wearing masks and stay[ing] safe and get[ting] vaccinated, then we can get back to a complete normal,” she said.
In Columbus, professional theater companies CATCO and Short North Stage opened their first in-person seasons since COVID-19 shutdowns ended their 2019-2020 seasons prematurely.
For their first show of their 2021-2022 season, CATCO is performing “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,” an experimental play directed by CATCO Artistic Director Leda Hoffmann. Hoffmann said that because “Mr. Burns” is CATCO’s first in-person production since March 2020, in-person rehearsals were an extreme change from the virtual theater done in 2020.
“I think everyone is just so excited to be back in a rehearsal space together,” she said. “Everyone’s really excited, everything I’ve heard from audiences so far is they just can’t wait to get back in the theater.”
Other Columbus theater companies have brought back productions that were canceled by the onset of the pandemic. Short North Stage’s production of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” was originally slated to run in March 2020 but ended one week into a five-week performance schedule. Due to the extremely short first run of “Young Frankenstein,” the show was performed in full during Short North Stage’s 2021-2022 season. The show was directed and choreographed by Short North Stage’s Artistic Director Edward Carignan.
“I’m really happy to bring it home to Columbus right now and audiences so far have just been loving it, which is wonderful,” he said.
As both Short North Stage and CATCO have cast and crew members in the Actors’ Equity Association, a labor association for live theater performers, both companies must follow the requirements set by Actors’ Equity.
“The actors are required by the union to be tested three times a week, so we rapid test them here. [If the test is positive, the actor has to take] a PCR test to ensure it’s not a false positive. And then after that, we quarantine anyone who is, in fact, positive,” Carignan said. “Luckily, no one has been actually sick, but we just can’t take any chances; we isolate anybody who tests positive.”
A participant in Short North Stage’s internship program, UAHS junior Alana Sayat performed in the ensemble of “Young Frankenstein.” She is also the dance captain of the Vocal Music Program at UAHS and a member of Vocal Ensemble, Belcanto and Symphonic Choir along with Murphy. Sayat said that prior to beginning rehearsals, all the cast and crew members were required to test negative on a PCR test, and everyone in the cast was required to be vaccinated.
“If we want to perform onstage in a theater inside without masks, we have to make sure that everyone’s safe, but we have to put on our masks as soon as we get offstage,” she said. “[We all] have to wash down all of our high-touch areas… Everyone rehearses in masks, and so we have had to take a lot of precautions with that, but it’s for the safety of everyone.”
Hoffmann said these same requirements, as well as several regarding performance attendance, apply to CATCO as well as Short North Stage. “We are also asking all of our audience members to be fully vaccinated or to provide the results of a recent negative COVID test, and then, we’re also requiring our audiences to wear masks the entire time,” Hoffmann said. “Our hope is that with vaccines and testing and mask-wearing, we’ll be able to keep our audiences safe.”
Short North Stage has very similar requirements for audience members.
“We require a vaccination to enter the building or a negative PCR test within 72 hours or a negative rapid test that’s verified on he same day. And then once you’re in the theater, you have to wear a mask at all times,” Carrignan said.
For Sayat, both “Young Frankenstein” and the Fall Follies mark a return to indoor theater.
“I am personally really glad that performing is back,” she said. “It’s such a healing thing for both the performers and the audience. I think it’s worth it to have all of those precautions to [not only] keep everyone safe but to make sure that everyone can still enjoy live theater.”