Summer of our discontent

Posted May 18, 2020

Season Update Isthmus Web

American Players Theatre makes “excruciating decision” to pull the plug on 2020 season.

By Catherine Capellaro, May 15, 2020, Isthmus. 

The summer season of American Players Theatre is the most recent casualty in the struggle to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Spring Green-based classical theater company announced May 15 that all shows in the 1,089-seat outdoor amphitheater and 201-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre would be moved to the 2021 season.

“It is a sad day,” APT’s artistic director Brenda DeVita tells Isthmus. “I am pretty good at keeping my chin up, but I have been talking to the core company members who have been saying ‘You get to hang your head today.’” 

The sad announcement came with a small silver lining: The company will be livestreaming a new play series, “Out of the Woods,” on the Wisconsin Public Television website starting on June 5. The plays will be created and recorded via Zoom and available for free for a limited time. (Watch for coverage from theater critic Gwendolyn Rice.)  

DeVita says making the decision was one of the hardest things she has had to face at the helm of the critically acclaimed theater company. “It’s been an excruciating couple of weeks — a month actually — and we were working so hard to make something possible. We were waiting for there to be some kind of indication that it’s safe to gather, and as we move forward and we see that the only thing keeping us safe right now is staying apart and not spreading this [virus] quicker, and we think the only responsible thing to do it take care of our artists and our workers this year. It’s inevitable, as sad as it is.”

Many of the company’s actors are under contract with Actors Equity, which is working to develop safety and health standards for its members during the pandemic. On its website the union criticized the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that overturned Gov. Tony Evers Safer at Home orders. “Today is not the day that Equity theatre should resume in Wisconsin,” wrote Andrea Hoeschen, Central Regional Director of Actors’ Equity Association in a press release. “Equity is working to create and implement safety standards that will protect workers and audiences alike and we are letting the science guide our decisions. Right now, there is unfortunately no way to safely perform live theatre. We hope our members in Wisconsin continue to social distance according to scientific guidelines.” 

DeVita agrees that there is no clear way to stage performances at this time. “The unions are, of course, taking care of their members, and we need to wait until people have a plan to keep actors and wardrobe people and stage crew safe,” she says. It will be a while, she adds, until “there’s some real nuanced and explicit plans that the theater community around the country can safely with confidence employ.”

Some might have been hoping that APT’s situation might be different, since the largest theater is in the open air. “We thought for a time that being outdoors would help us,” says DeVita. But, they “did the math,” putting circles on the ground, and found that social distancing guidelines would reduce the audience to approximately one-fifth of capacity. “There’s just no viable way to produce with those numbers.”

“If — and I have to say if — there is any plan we can come up with that shows that we can safely do some work and film it for ticket holders or if there’s any chance we can bring in a small audience this fall, we will do that.” But she adds, the company’s fans have already bought so many tickets — $2 million worth — that there is no way to safely accommodate all those people.

Read the full article here.