When they say, "The show must go on," these two companies mean it.
After nearly five months of dark stages and empty wings, two Massachusetts theatres have welcomed back audiences with the first Actors' Equity-approved productions since the coronavirus pandemic shut down productions nationwide: Barrington Stage Company with Harry Clarke and Berkshire Theatre Group with Godspell. Even with myriad safety provisions, hiccups were to be expected; the former, for instance, had to move outdoors instead of an initially planned, social distance-friendly indoor configuration. Now, both have to cut their already limited capacity in half.
With a new state mandate from Governor Charlie Baker, outdoor mass gatherings are now limited to 50 people instead of 100. Despite the substantial reduction, both productions will continue (in accordance with the new regulation). Berkshire Theatre Group says it is reshuffling audiences and is "cooperating fully and faithfully with local and state health authorities." The nearby Barrington Stage Company, where the solo show Harry Clarke runs through this weekend and a Rodgers and Hammerstein cabaret readies to follow, is also prepared to continue its production schedule.
"Of course we'd like to have more than 50 patrons, but the important thing is that we are giving artists work," says Artistic Director Julianne Boyd. "We're not only here to please the audience, but the performers as well. To see them happy to be learning music—to be in a theatre again in rehearsal—is so exciting. It makes it all worthwhile to see the artist working and reaching an audience, albeit a smaller audience than we would like."
Given the shifting nature of the health crisis and Equity's rigorous safety protocols, BSC was prepared to, as Boyd says, "anticipate what's going to be around the curve." Although initially granted permission to perform indoors, the company had put a hold on a tent, allowing for a swift turnaround once ordered otherwise. Similarly, by reducing ticket availability for the back half of its shows' performances, the theatre was able to reshuffle many patrons into later performances rather than turn away half of the ticketholders.
As uncertain as what performances might look like week-to-week is, Boyd at least has a confident outlook on the shared ethos between the artist and the audience. "We weren't sure if there would be an audience, but I can guarantee there's an audience. They're ready to come back if they know it's safe. What we're doing is we're investing in the new norm and taking it as it comes.
"If they want us to cut back, we'll cut back. Because we know that once we go forward, they're ready."