Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Vermont’s oldest professional theater, announced Thursday that it will cancel its previously announced summer productions at Weston Theater and Walker Farm over COVID-19 concerns.
“We bring over 100 people to our town every year to put on our shows, and thousands more come to see them,” explained Susanna Gellert, Weston’s executive artistic director. “We felt that it would be really hard to ask our artists and theater-makers to travel, and it would be hard for our community to feel safe with people coming from all over the country, given how things are going. We really wanted to make sure we were taking care of the town.”
However, Weston is reimagining its 2020 season, hoping to bring music, theater and developing theater events to Walker Farm. And the three Playhouse shows scheduled for 2020 — “Ring of Fire,” “Kinky Boots” and “Steel Magnolias” — will be produced as part of the 2021 season.
“The background of this, of course, is the uncertainty we’re all living in,” Gellert said. “We did consider postponing the season, starting later. But given how fast things are changing, day by day, week by week, we realized that a decision like that could have to be changed again in a matter of days or weeks.”
Gellert also looked at other theaters around the country and found that ticket sales were significantly depressed through the holidays. And some were closing, with personnel losing their livelihood as well as the work they had invested.
“I wanted to protect the theater from that outcome,” Gellert said. “I looked at a number of scenarios, and with a priority of taking care of our community and preserving the long term future of the company, (I and the board) really feel confident about this decision.”
Tentative replacement plans for the summer go in two directions.
“One of those is the work we want to put together when we’re able to open our doors and safely welcome audiences back to Weston,” Gellert said. “We won’t be able to do full productions because we will have asked our staff to stay home for the summer.”
However, Walker Farm has already proven versatile for presenting concerts as well as theater of all sorts.
“I can’t confirm anything right now, but we’re talking about concert readings of favorite Weston musicals, staged readings of world premiere musicals that are in development,” Gellert said. “We might see some of our alumni come and do a concert event with us. I, of course, would love to do a cabaret alumni weekend.”
In addition, Weston will be able to focus more on its New Works Development Program, including the New Musical Award and the Artists’ Retreat.
“We’re going to take the time to delve into that kind of work, and kick off some of our dream projects like commissioning projects, new play development projects,” Gellert said. “Some of that I hope we’ll be able to bring to the public, but it’ll definitely be going on behind the scenes.”