Maui’s community theater groups set the stage for a new normal


At first glance, you might think there’s a show at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Outside, glossy theater posters are on display. Inside, the sets are set on stage, the props are carefully lined up on a table and the costumes are hung in the boxes.

The only thing missing? A cast, a team and an audience.

In March, a production of Ray Cooney’s comedy “Out of Order” was halted mid-term in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Today, the small theater in the storefront of Azeka Makai Mall is seemingly frozen in time, ready for the start of the next performance.

And the show will continue. It’s just a matter of when, said Lin McEwan, executive director of ProArts Inc., the nonprofit that runs the ProArts Playhouse.

“Out of Order” has been postponed along with several other shows slated to open in the spring and early summer. Ticket holders were offered refunds, but many opted for credit or donated the value of their ticket to the association, which helped offset some of the financial pressure.

“As in almost every sector of the economy, the arts have been hit hard during this time, and ProArts is of course no exception,” said McEwan. “That said, when the quarantine is fully lifted, we are ready to pick up where we left off.”

The latest rules from state and county authorities allow most businesses and activities to resume from Monday with social distancing changes. But theaters and other places of public gathering are to remain closed until further notice. When theaters are given the green light, McEwan said, “We intend to go beyond the security measures recommended by our government agencies by the time we are able to safely welcome customers to the theater. . These measures will result in more costs and hours of work, even for a smaller audience, but we want to take all possible precautions. “

She said the cast of “Out of Order” can’t wait to get back on stage, and when they do, it can be a live performance in front of a small, live, socially distant audience. Until then, ProArts will continue an online “Quarantine” series it launched in late March.

“We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community, including contributors and viewers, and we are very grateful for their support,” said McEwan.

Like ProArts, Maui OnStage faces an unknown future. Following the state’s stay-at-home order, the nonprofit pressed the pause button for a scheduled production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Iao Theater. At the time, rehearsals were in full swing, with an opening night in a few weeks.

The show is postponed and no new date has been set, said Luana Whitford-Mitchell, executive director of Maui OnStage. “We have every intention of doing this show when we can,” she said. “When exactly it will be… everyone can guess at this point. “

While “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” waits backstage, two summer shows, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical” and “Madagascar – A Musical Adventure Jr.”, have been canceled. Additionally, Maui OnStage had to end its spring classes for children and adults and canceled or postponed several rentals of the theater space.

When the curtain rises again, new health and safety protocols will be in place, including physical distancing measures for staff, actors, crew and customers.

“Sitting people 6 feet apart means removing every other row of seats and having people seated with three empty seats between them,” said Whitford-Mitchell. “A full house for us is an audience of just over 400 people. Placing people 6 feet apart brings that number down to about 70.”

Those empty seats will deal another financial blow to Maui OnStage. In addition to issuing thousands of dollars in refunds for canceled shows, classes and rentals, Whitford-Mitchell said 75% or more of the non-profit organization’s annual budget came from ticket sales.

“It was devastating. … Community theaters are already operating on a shoestring budget, but adding to the sudden and overwhelming burden of a global pandemic and nationwide shutdown. Many theaters will not be able to survive this, ”she said. “I believe Maui OnStage will survive. We’ll be doing things a little differently for a while, but we’ll be there.

In line with its counterparts, the Maui Academy of Performing Arts is also in wait-and-see mode. In mid-March, the association suspended its spring semester dance and theater classes and switched to synchronous online classes.

The spring semester ends on June 13, and MAPA will be hosting summer dance classes and an online drama camp. A decision on whether to offer fall courses virtually or in person is pending.

“There is so much uncertainty,” said MAPA executive director David Johnston.

Long before the pandemic, Johnston scheduled MAPA’s large-scale musical, which usually takes place in August at the Castle Theater at Maui Arts & Cultural Center, for the end of November. Like so many others, he is hoping for a return to normalcy by then, but is bracing for a new financial reality due to physical distancing that would only allow sitting for about a third of the total capacity of hearing.

Production plans are on hold at the moment. Johnston and MAPA staff and board are actively exploring a number of possibilities, including a hybrid format in which the show would be presented on stage to a small audience and simultaneously streamed online pay-per-view. MAPA is also considering smaller scale productions using the hybrid model.

The experience of seeing live theater cannot be duplicated, but watching it online in real time is the best thing, and the accessible format could attract new audiences and help build Maui’s theatrical community, a. Johnston said.

“It will be a different landscape,” he said. “I am delighted to see what it looks like… and to participate in its creation. “

The future may be bleak, but Johnston, McEwan and Whitford-Mitchell remain optimistic. After all, McEwan points out, the bubonic plague did not derail William Shakespeare’s career.

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then hardship is often the mother of innovation,” she said. “Despite the inability to come together, artists around the world have found ingenious ways to present their work to the masses via virtual means during this crisis. Art survives and it will always survive.

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