WELLFLEET — After the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater announced on May 5 that it was postponing its entire 2020 season of productions until 2021 due to the Covid-19 epidemic, the smaller, artist-run Harbor Stage Company followed suit on May 11.
“Given the current dangers of the Covid-19 outbreak, we just can’t bring ourselves to put our audiences or artists at risk,” wrote Harbor Stage co-founder Brenda Withers in an email to subscribers.
WHAT had earlier put forward a schedule of four plays and one musical from June 12 through Oct. 18, while the Harbor Stage held off announcing the three summer productions it was planning.
Both the Provincetown Theater and the Peregrine Theatre Ensemble have not yet announced the fate of their seasons as a whole, though some productions have been postponed and both companies acknowledge the insurmountable obstacles going forward with live indoor theater under current conditions.
Elsewhere on the Cape, the Cape Playhouse in Dennis announced that it would postpone its entire 2020 season until the following year.
Christopher Ostrom, WHAT’s executive and artistic director, told the Independent why WHAT chose to postpone before the announcement of state guidelines on reopening.
“We convened a crisis task force and concluded that no matter when the lockdown was lifted, it would be incredibly difficult to do any production, knowing the lead time to get to opening night,” Ostrom said.
In calculating the capacity of WHAT’s 212-seat Julie Harris Stage under an all-but-certain social distancing directive, “We figured that the maximum was 30 seats,” Ostrom continued. “We also had to look at what the rehearsal process would be like. There were so many variables that were outside our control. What if someone coughs in the middle of the performance?”
Another factor is where actors and staff would live. “We own a house that houses about half our company,” Ostrom said. “They share bathrooms and kitchens. We wondered if people would be doing that so soon.”
Despite WHAT’s recently improved financial position, the pandemic makes survival that much more difficult. “I took a pay cut just to get us through,” Ostrom said. “We did get [PPP] funding. And 85 percent of subscribers either donated instead of a refund or paid it forward. That was an overwhelming gesture of generosity.”
Over at the Harbor Stage, located in WHAT’s former home, Robert Kropf, co-founder and artistic director among equals, said in an email, “We realized we’d have to do an abridged season but were holding out hope for one play, later in the summer. As a small operation, we felt we could pivot pretty quickly.”
Social distancing was decisive. “With only 90 seats, reduced seating is not really an option at the Harbor,” Kropf said. “Ticket sales are really a lifeline for us.”
In the end, he added, “There were just too many unknowns, and our first priority is the safety and health of our patrons, collaborators, and the company.”
David Drake, artistic director of the Provincetown Theater, told the Independent the reason he hasn’t postponed his entire season is that “we have nothing in place to answer to our subscribers. We’re investigating some other things. We’re exploring outdoor possibilities. A friend sent me a Zoom play. I’ve got a number of irons on the fire right now. Thank God, we’ve established year-round continuity at our theater. I feel we have enough of an audience that will follow us where we’ll need to be.”
Drake noted that he’s postponed his spring show, Mae West’s The Drag, to the fall, and his June-July world premiere, Sarah Schulman’s The Lady Hamlet, till 2021. The reason for postponements instead of cancellations, he said, is that rights have already been paid for, and commitments made.
“Meanwhile,” Drake added, “we’ll continue doing Mosquito Story Slams once a month and having these ‘community conversations’ with David Wilson through the end of June.”
The Peregrine Theatre Ensemble usually puts on one musical production for the whole summer at Fishermen Hall, the auditorium at Provincetown Schools. The show is performed by a company of rising young actors, many right out of school, who need to be housed. The company has not yet announced what they’ll be doing or if they will cancel.
Adam Berry, a Peregrine co-founder and executive director, said, “If I had a building of my own, I’d have made a decision about what to do. I applaud WHAT for taking the initiative and setting an example, by doing what is right for their community and right for their organization.”
Peregrine, like the Provincetown Theater, has plans to offer virtual entertainment. Ostrom, when asked about a virtual season, said, “We lack the resources to pivot that way effectively. But we’re keeping our options open.”
Kropf, of the Harbor Stage, said, “For now, as things shift and settle, we remain eager and ready to jump back on the ship — whatever that looks like and whenever that is. I’ve been summering in Wellfleet and working in that beautiful, banged-up building for 20 years. It means everything. It’s a fight.”