Merced County Times Newspaper
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Playhouse Merced thinking small scale for short term

Playhouse Merced leaders says their onstage productions are on hold due to the pandemic, but they are holding out hope things will be better in the spring when they plan to present ‘The Spongebob Musical,’ among other previously scheduled events.
Playhouse Merced leaders says their onstage productions are on hold due to the pandemic, but they are holding out hope things will be better in the spring when they plan to present ‘The Spongebob Musical,’ among other previously scheduled events.

Are you looking forward to the usual stellar Playhouse Merced entertainment during the holidays?

Playhouse Merced, located at 452 W. Main Street in Merced, has planned some fabulous stuff for the holidays, but unfortunately due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, the 2021-22 season of theater performances remains on hold.

According to Playhouse Merced Board President Emily Langdon, it may be Spring before theater-goers return to the theater to see the season’s productions.

The new season opened on the weekend of Sept. 17 with “Godspell,” the first production, but several members of the “Godspell” cast were exposed to COVID, and one tested positive.  Out of an abundance of caution, Playhouse Merced shut down.

Langdon told the Times, “Our policy is to get tested and if you had a negative test you could perform, and at some point the Director felt the artistic integrity of the performance was compromised, so we cancelled the show and refunded all the tickets. The talented ‘Godspell’ cast and crew gave an outstanding performance which the Board greatly appreciated, and we were really hoping to provide the show. But we are focusing on getting more of our community vaccinated.  We want to see if we can get to a much higher proportion as to the vaccine rate.

“So, we have shut down the season through 2021.  We are looking into salvaging the rest of the season, but we want to wait until we’re fully into Spring 2022 so we can assess what’s happening with the virus.

“We’re working hard to be able to come back to the stage.  We’re continuing some low-key fundraising so we can reopen in Spring.

“I am holding out a lot of hope that we can get ‘The Spongebob Musical’ to the stage this Spring.  The story is about teamwork, and it’s the best story!

Upcoming activities

“Meanwhile, we’re evaluating ways to do things on a smaller scale.

“We still think we can safely bring people into the theater and do some things  — classes, mini camps, conversations, the Perennial Players, which is basically conservatory for the over-50 generation.

“We are hiring a new Artistic Director and an Education Director, so we’re going to be staffing up and getting our leadership back in place.

“We’re inviting everyone in the community to an Open Conversation on Nov. 17, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Playhouse Merced lobby, and we’ll provide coffee and baked goods by a local baker, Tanisha McClain with Quichey Creations.  She sells her creations at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  “At the Open Conversation, we will find out what people would like to see in our coming season.  Typically, the Artistic Director proposes a season and comes to the Board with the shows they want to do and why, and usually that person leads the process of selecting the productions.  It might be nice to let the individual we hire have a sense of what the community wants or what shows might make sense.  Also, we’d like to engage people more, especially because COVID has made us all so isolated, and we would appreciate a discussion about what shows people would like to see.  Twelve shows is exhausting so we’re considering doing more like eight shows a season, and maybe we will run them for more weekends.  We want to do musical theater, comedy and dramas and make sure to have some productions where people can perform who don’t sing or dance.

“We’re doing things gingerly.  It’s very different from our full-blown Conservatory where we held classes four days a week, but it’s our intention to get there, to get our staff in place and our protocols in place so we feel we’re doing it responsibly and safely.

“We’re providing a Mini Day Camp for kids ages 7 through 12 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, Nov. 22 through Nov. 24.  The kids will all be wearing masks.  They will get to do warm-up activities, play theater games, do improv, and work on scene creation.  We’re really excited about it.  We’ll do some kids camps in December, as well, and also during the week in February 2022 when schools are out.

“On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in 2020, Playhouse participated in Giving Tuesday, an online day of giving to non-profits across the country.  We raised a nice chunk of money during a time when we weren’t sure what was going to happen.  In November 2021, things look much better and we know there’s a path through this.  We’re going to put a fundraising platform on our website so people can give on Giving Tuesday.

“We are hopeful that we’ll be able to provide a radio play in December, around the holidays. The cast will consist of a small, tight group of people who know each other, and we’re thinking this is a way to reduce the risk of COVID spread.

“We are also looking forward to having a presence at the Christmas parade.

“On Jan.15, the Perennial Players group will put on a stage make-up class from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 222 Main Street at Zane-it.  The fee is $25.

“Sandy Hay, who has acted in and directed plays for us, has put together the Perennial Players program.  They’re doing Reader’s Theater and small one-act shows that keep people engaged.  They enjoy interacting with their peers, and it signals that you never outgrow theater.

“We have a program called Play Anywhere where our creative people go to the schools and do an after-school program, and the parents watch the performance for free after we work with the kids for two weeks.  We have had this program for awhile, but right now it seems so important.  Theater can be a really powerful tool when kids are struggling, and we’re working really hard to get that program up and running and to our schools.  We’re starting again in January, and we will go to schools in Atwater and Snelling.  We’re hoping to book more of these. We feel we can do that safely onsite with the schools.

“We have a new office manager, Stephanie Atkinson, who started her position on the opening night of ‘Godspell’.  She’s putting out our newsletter and is the anchor of Playhouse Merced right now.”

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