After having to shut its doors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Murray's Playhouse in the Park is finally returning to the stage in a series of outdoor, socially distanced performances. Executive director of Playhouse in the Park, Lisa Cope, speaks with Tracy Ross about the upcoming seven-week season.
In order to maintain social distancing guidelines, Murray's Playhouse in the Park will present their upcoming season at either the Rotary Amphitheater or under the Playhouse deck. Capacity is limited to 50 patrons per performance, and seating will be arranged in six-foot intervals (families are allowed to be seated together). Touchless temperature checks will be conducted on the cast, crew, and patrons, and masks are strongly recommended. Patrons are also asked to bring their own chairs.
"We're just trying to take every precaution," Cope says. "We want people to feel safe about coming out. We want to do it right. We want to be able to continue to do this, so we're being really careful. So far, everything has just gone really well. It's gone fast. We found out that we had gotten permission [from the health department] and were able to perform. We know that bad weather is coming eventually, so we're just trying to take advantage of as much of the time as we could."
To make the most of their limited time, Playhouse in the Park will present five shows over seven weeks starting this weekend, September 18th and 19th, through October 31st. Cope explains that the programming was chosen specifically with COVID-19 guidelines in mind. "A couple of the guidelines involved shows that had small casts, so that was really the main thing we looked at first. Things that didn't really require a lot of set -- small shows in that sense."
"We talked about [safety precautions] a lot," Cope continues. "We're going to have masks. We're going to distance you as much as we can as performers. We're going to really rethink what we do. We never block a show thinking, how can I distance these performers from each other? We also wanted to choose things that would appeal to a wide audience. So the show selection was very intentional."
The shortened 2020 season begins this weekend with The Commedia Pinocchio, a high-energy, family-friendly show about an acting troupe of larger-than-life characters. "All of the shows are family-friendly, but this one in particular, I think, would be something families would enjoy." The Commedia Pinocchio will be presented at the Rotary Amphitheater at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 18th; 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 19th; and 2 p.m. Sunday, September 20th.
"We're following that with Always, Patsy Cline, which is a two-actor show. We're going to run that one for two weekends, and then we're doing a really fun show called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged. It's a high comedy, a lot of energy, but it's only three actors. They just play a whole lot of different characters. It's very funny; it's very physical; it's very big and can fill that outdoor space, which is something else we were looking for."
The playhouse will then present another children's show called The Rainbow Fish, based on a children's book by Marcus Pfister. The theatre will close the season with two weekends of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. "We have some really cool, different things we were never able to do in the theatre that we're going to be able to do outside. So I think that's a great variety of shows. Everybody can come see all of them and be completely comfortable and completely entertained," Cope says.
Because of their limited time to prepare, the show selection and auditioning processes were much different than normal. "We did not hold auditions for these shows. A couple of reasons -- one is because we did move very quickly. [For] the first show, we only had three weeks to put the whole show together. They've done it, and it's fabulous, but they've pushed hard, and they've gone long hours. So we knew that we were going to have to move very quickly."
"The other thing," Cope continues, "is [auditions] just added a whole other layer of, what does that look like? How do you distance people at an audition? Do you audition people one at a time? It added complications. Each director, for their show, pulled folks that they thought were up for learning things really quickly and abiding by all of the guidelines. That's been really different."
"We trusted these directors. They're directors we've worked with in the past, so we kind of knew who would be comfortable where. We just trusted them to pull the folks that they needed, cast and crew, to make it happen very quickly and make it happen well. We want this to be a very positive thing. The theatre needs this. It's been scary days here, so it's really important. We're trying to get it right," Cope concludes.
Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling the theatre at 270-759-1752 or e-mailing email@example.com. For more information, visit the Murray Playhouse in the Park website or Facebook page.