For many, performance theater has been an integral part of cultural expression — one that draws people together for the purpose of experiencing art in action.
However, with the complications presented by the historic COVID-19 pandemic, community theater from Broadway to Lincoln was forced to close its playhouse doors. Now, with states and cities opening back up, the Lincoln theater community is looking forward to reopening for local theater goers to once again enjoy live performances.
According to Morrie Enders, the executive director of the Lincoln Community Playhouse, the summer was a trial period with various outdoor performances that included parking lot plays and outdoor productions open to the public. However, with winter looming and social distancing protocols relaxing, the Lincoln Community Playhouse staff is looking to resume indoor performances.
“It’s been a long arc of doing no plays and staying relevant and then doing plays and trying to stay safe,” Enders said. “I feel like we are trying to ease back into performances, but we just have to do it safely.”
Now, after months of planning, the Lincoln Community Playhouse is set to debut its first indoor play since the national shutdown in March. The play is set to open on Sept. 21 and will show Sept. 25 to Sept. 27 and then again Oct. 2 to Oct. 4.
This new performance is a one-woman play called “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.” Enders said that the entire production consists of one actress and two crew members. The audience will be restricted to 50 attendees with six feet of distance between each person.
“I think this is a really good start to reintegrating indoor productions to the community,” Enders said. “People are hurting not just for entertainment, but also just for connection.”
Enders said there was a significant amount of emotional intensity present in the theater community when the actors and crew were told they had to shut their doors.
“The week we had to close, it was literally like a funeral,” Enders said. “There were people bringing their scripts back and coming to talk and reflect, and people were crying, and some even brought food just like a funeral.”
According to Jillian Carter, a producer and playwright for Angels Theatre Company, the Angels production crew was in the middle of putting out a show when they decided to close their doors due to COVID-19.
“We were actually in the middle of a new original work when everything shut down, so we actually ended up being the first company to close our doors before everyone,” Carter said. “On the flip side, though, because we were the first to close, we were also one of the first to open up and do indoor shows in July.”
According to Carter, Angels Theatre Company and others in the Lincoln Theater Alliance were some of the first to test the waters in holding productions while also following CDC protocol to keep everyone safe.
“Lincoln theater has always been super innovative because there are so many of us that have carved out a niche, so that really helped us adapt,” Carter said. “We all know how important theater is to people’s mental health and well-being, so that makes us want to go above and beyond to keep everything as safe as possible.”
Both Enders and Carter said that despite the complications that COVID-19 has propagated, there were some upsides that came out of the historic event.
“The big positive is this kind of thing gave people the chance to step back and see what’s really important to them,” Enders said. “This crisis gave us the chance to really utilize connection and the internet for communication. We were able to have masterclasses and speakers and voice lessons online with people that we never would have been able to fly out.”
As far as the future goes, Carter and Enders remain tentatively optimistic for the future but very focused on the present and what Carter calls the “new normal.”
“I don’t even want to think that far in the future because it’s all going to be so long before we can actually have a packed house,” Carter said. “I really just think that is really important for everyone to keep in mind — that every theater that is making the choice to open, they are going above and beyond to make sure it is all safe.”