StageOne Family Theatre pivots with July summer camps, new ideas brewing for 2020-21 season
Summer camps more than half full; next season's show likely to combine in-person/virtual experiences
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By Elizabeth Kramer
The pivot was already in practice before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit StageOne Family Theatre, said Producing Artistic Director Andrew Harris, who has been with the company since 2001.
The past few years bear evidence.
StageOne Family Theatre’s Andrew Harris teaching drama to elementary students in a pre-coronavirus world. The company will practice social distancing and other protocals during this summer’s camps. Photo courtesy StageOne Family Theatre.
In June 2018, a fire hit the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts followed by an extensive building rehabilitation that displaced the company for a season from The Bomhard Theater where it has regularly performed for decades, to Louisville Memorial Auditorium.
Then came this January’s mid-season announcement Producing Artistic Director Idris Goodwin was leaving for the director’s position at Colorado College’s Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
Riding High Before the Shutdown •|• Weeks before most of the city’s performing arts venues ceased public gatherings, StageOne had premiered Louisville playwright Diana Grisanti’s “Lawbreakers!” — a fast-paced telling of women’s suffrage that had garnered a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
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The next show, a big one, was a week away — “Dragons Love Tacos,” based on the 2012 New York Times best-seller by Adam Rubin and adapted for the stage by Ernie Noland.
But by Saturday, March 14, the company had put out the word that it wouldn’t be opening the play as scheduled as Kentucky Performing Arts and other performing arts organizations were shutting down events due to public health alerts. That run — with 40 performances for school field trips and six public shows — would have brought in around $100,000, Harris said. At the time, StageOne was working with a $1.7 million annual budget.
The cast of “Lawbreakers!” in the last StageOne production before the pandemic forced arts organizations to shutter public performances. Photo courtesy StageOne Family Theatre.
“That loss was a significant amount of revenue,” said Harris, adding that most of those tickets had already been sold. “That was the big blow and our biggest revenue generator of the season that was shut down.”
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Facing Loss, Creating Anew •|• Over the past two months, Harris and his team — with a staff reduced from 14 to six due to furloughs — have launched virtual programming with its Channel StageOne. (Harris has reduced his salary by 15%.) Channel StageOne — posted on on its webpage as well as its YouTube and other social media outlets — also features different themes each day. (See details about Channel StageOne with photo below.)
With the recent relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, StageOne recently established dates for summer camps, salvaging some summer revenue according to Harris. The company also has set out planning the 2020-21 season.
Channel StageOne: “Mindful Mondays” are led by a former actor and certified yoga teacher “to help children and families center themselves,” Harris said; “How-To Tuesdays”, a session led by the company’s prop master with things to do such as learning how to make fake, edible stage blood; “Storytellers’ Wednesdays” are extensions of the company’s dramatic readings of children’s books held monthly for years; Thursdays hone in on activities like a virtual tour of production studio or making paper horses during what would have been Derby week; “Yoga Fridays” embrace celebration and include dance and music. Image courtesy StageOne Family Theatre.
Careful Camping in COVID-19 Summer •|• The 13 different camps for ages 4 to 18 are scheduled for July and have 460 available slots more than half-filled, Harris said. Staff members are still finalizing locations for the camps, which are normally held at Lincoln Elementary. (The company had to find new locations after Jefferson County Public Schools decided to close its buildings to public use and outside programs this summer.)
Harris said scouting new locations meant looking for buildings that meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines — including having good ventilation, appropriate space to allow for distancing, and multiple entry points to prevent crowding.
The company is taking other safeguards.
“We have to make sure that participants don’t have to share resources such as crayons, that there is regular cleaning of the space, and have staggered drop off and pick up times to minimize contact,” Harris said.
If the public health situation declines, he added, StageOne has made contingency plans. Some involve moving dates. Another includes making the camps into virtual experiences.
StageOne Family Theatre’s Andrew Harris working with a student during a summer camp. Photo courtesy StageOne Family Theatre.
A New Kind of Season •|• Next season’s details, soon to be announced, will constitute the biggest change — as the company will not perform on Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theatre where students attending matinees make up a large majority of the StageOne’s audience.
JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy said no decision has been made regarding field trips next school year. But Harris, who has spoken with educators around the country, said StageOne is planning for a season that has fewer or no field trips.
This situation presents StageOne with another case to pivot. The company is already working with educators and playwrights, said Harris, to create hybrid pieces that work as performances and prompt educational work in the classroom.
“If audiences can’t come to us,” he said, “we are developing smaller performance pieces that are nimbler and we can deliver into schools. We’re even looking at live streaming those performances and using a mix of the two.”
The goal, he added, is to create agile productions that can adapt to different environments — including the virtual. Harris sees the company tapping into its experience using video projection and related technology, such as the 2016 production of “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” which had children making pictures on smart tablets along with the protagonist as he drew himself out of trouble.
Left: Andrew Harris, director of StageOne’s 2016 production of “Harold and the Purple Crayon” trying out the technology student audiences used. Right: Matthew Brennan and cellist Ben Sollee in “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” Photos courtesy StageOne Family Theatre.
Through this pandemic, Harris said he is thinking of StageOne’s programming as part of a bridge period until more normal times return. Still, he has a dream for opening a season with the promised popular production of “Dragons Love Tacos.”
Meantime, StageOne’s perseverance and creativity, he said, can succeed with the continued funding from sponsors and special resources such as the One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund.
“We are creative people who are used to interesting shifts and changes,” he said. “We will continue to serve our audiences, create art, and support our families — we’re just going to find new and innovative ways to do it.”
Elizabeth Kramer, an established journalistic voice in the arts, continues to report here on Louisville’s creative community and culture. A multimedia journalist who has worked for newspapers and public radio, Kramer was the Louisville’s leading voice on the arts as the fine arts reporter at Louisville’s Courier Journal from 2010 to 2017. Her work has aired on National Public Radio and appeared in national publications. Never miss an update.