Words by Frank Connelly.
Images courtesy of the Williamsburg Players.
Williamsburg Players is ready to take the stage again after eight months of inactivity due to the pandemic. “Fall Into Broadway – An Outdoor Cabaret” will be performed Saturday, November 14, 2020 at 11:00 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM with a rain date of Saturday, November 21. All performances will be held on a stage placed on the back-parking lot of the Williamsburg Players theatre.
Jennifer Lent, the director of “Fall Into Broadway”, and Neil Hollands, President of Williamsburg Players, met with me using Zoom to talk about the upcoming show.
The idea of producing a Cabaret Show first occurred to Neil Hollands. He wanted a show that could meet CDC guidelines and keep everyone safe. The outside parking lot behind the theatre is large and can facilitate safety needs especially if everyone wears a mask and practices social distancing. He believes that everyone is clamoring for safe live performances.
Jennifer Lent expressed that the theatre is doing everything possible to keep cast and crew safe. She gives a lot of credit to Rachel Bradley, musical director, for instituting safety guidelines. They make sure that not everyone is in the same room at the same time. Performers are given individual time slots for each rehearsal. Masks are worn by everyone, especially the staff. The performers can take off their mask while performing. Microphones get mic covers and are labeled for each singer.
Neil also mentioned that they keep a 12-foot gap between the stage and the audience. No one will have the option to remove their mask. The audience can watch from their cars if they feel safer there, or from chairs that they bring themselves. The sound system is capable of allowing everyone to hear the performers.
All of the auditions were conducted using online submissions. There were very few instances in the process where there was more than one person in a room, when it did happen, they were really spread out. Performers were also given a code of conduct; if someone were to get sick then they must pull themselves out of the show. “Fall Into Broadway” is not a normal performance situation where you struggle through it. Performers were assured that if they were forced to drop out of the show, they would still be included in a future performance.
Performers were also asked to be cognizant on how much time they were spending around groups or unsafe situations. They were asked to try to minimize those contacts during the rehearsal period. There were a few performers who were not sick, but did encounter others who were exposed to the virus. Williamsburg Players then updated their rehearsal schedule so that those performers were quarantined until the risk subsided.
Lent wanted it to be known how proud she is of the cast. “We have so much talent that we added a dance routine,” she said, “It should add a lot of fun and energy to the show.” Four dancers were added to the show, fully masked and in front of the stage. They will be performing with Deborah Soderholm’s song “No Business Like Show Business” and at the very end of Hollands’ song “You’ll Be Back”.
Hollands described their group number as having “a couple of soloists on opposite ends of the stage,” everyone else will surround the audience at a distance and be masked. The song was rehearsed entirely on Zoom, with the biggest challenge being that the platform only allows one person to be singing or speaking at any one time. Imagine rehearsing a musical where everyone has to muted except for one singer. The music director gave everyone tracks for each choral part of the song. “It will be an interesting experience,” Bradley said, “because we haven’t sung it all together.” Their first time singing all in the same space will be a run-thru just before their first show, which will occur in the parking lot where they can create safe conditions.
Lent talked about the unique challenges of directing a Cabaret show during a pandemic. She said that normally they would meet five nights a week to rehearse. With this show they are meeting two days a week, but not with a full cast- essentially half the cast rehearses each night. There has been very little direct interaction between her and the performers. That is why Zoom and emails have become very important. “When we are in-person then the focus is on the music because it is a Cabaret,” Lent said. When the idea of having a MC came to Lent, she chose Kevin Clauberg to fill that role. Clauberg will introduce each performer comedically. “We are also incorporating some pandemic parody.” Songs such as Marcia Dadds’ “I am Still here”, Lent’s “I am Breaking Down from Falsettos”, and Hollands’ “We’ll Be Back” will have pandemic parodies.
Hollands offered that they tried hard to choose songs that were upbeat, laughable and not depressing. “You can find humor in our everyday life. We think that people will be able to relate, [and are] hopeful as an organization that we can withstand this calamity and be back for our audiences.” The group song is “Seasons of Love” from RENT that has the mantra about how you measure a year. “This is certainly a time when we are trying to figure out how we measure this year. Is it a year when we measure it in the lives lost, connections blocked, or something positive?”
To pick a highlight of the show is very difficult for Lent and Hollands as everyone is so talented. But she did mention that there are two twin sisters who have huge belt voices.
There is a great mix with performers that Williamburg Players audiences will be familiar with, along with new talent. Charity Robinson is doing the solo in “Seasons of Love”, reprising her performance from RENT. “It is a great diverse cast that is packed tight into a 1 hour and twenty-minute show,” Hollands mentioned.
Lent wants everyone to see “Fall Into Broadway”. She is very excited that live theatre is back with Williamsburg Players. “A show that is live, socially distant, masked, and safe for the audience, is something that I would love to see.”
Hollands had the final word on the state of theatre and “Fall Into Broadway” with this gem.
“I think of it as a way for you to experience other lives that you are not going to be able to experience in your regular life. That is probably why so many of us are passionate about acting and singing character parts. The audience can go along with us, and we truly need those experiences now. This is a safe way to do it.”
Williamsburg Players “Fall Into Broadway – An Outdoor Cabaret” . Performances take place at Williamsburg Players (outdoor parking lot), on Nov 14, rain date Nov 21. Get more info, prices, and purchase tickets here or by calling 757.229.0431