As COVID cases across the country continue to decline, theatre leaders are having to make hard decisions on whether or not to resume live performances. On one hand it's understandable with this virus still out there and the date for a vaccine still unknown how some people may feel it's too early to start performances back up, even with a long list of safety measures in place.
However, when I asked Desert Foothills Theater's Managing Director Terry Temple some questions about their decision to present their production of Disney's The Lion King, JR for a two weekend run from September 18-27, he said there were many factors that went into moving forward and reopening with this show, including the need for people, and kids especially, to get back to some sense of normalcy.
Temple just took over at DFT last season, and only oversaw a few productions before everything shut down. Below Temple provides more detail to my questions about their production, the safety issue they've put in place as well as a few details about his plans for their upcoming 2020/2021 season.
What were some of the questions and concerns that led to your decision to present Lion King, Jr. as one of the first live shows in town since everything shut down last March?
Terry Temple: "Our decision process was led by the parents of our community and our desire to serve them. Over the summer we had a number of inquiries from parents asking if DFT was offering anything in person for their children. They used terms and phrases like 'desperate', 'My child is withdrawing/falling back', 'depressed.' We managed to safely pull off a couple of small, in-person experiences successfully which only made the demand to get back to some 'theater' normalcy only greater."
What safety measures will you have in place for the performances?
"During the rehearsal process we are doing everything you might expect: Temperature checks, sanitizer, masks always, distancing as much as possible. Additionally, we are limiting audience size, offering streaming performances when allowed, and actors will wear face shields that will also be incorporated into the costume design using feathers, fur, etc."
What comments have you heard from parents of DFT kids over the last few months about their concerns, both pro and con, in presenting live shows?
"From our community, our parents and actors we have only heard positive things. They have been so generous in expressing their gratitude. Parents are profoundly concerned with the mental and emotional health of the children and I, along with my theater team, thought it was time to step up. We have, however, received a few rather snarky, indirect and rather judgmental comments out there from members of the theater community on social media. If they had reached out to me directly I would just tell them that Covid and all its negative effects go well beyond just the physical. We are beginning to understand the challenges and serious issues that arise from the isolation these kids have experienced these past 5 months."
What was the turnout for your auditions like?
"The response was overwhelming with audition turnout being the largest of any show here in the past two years. We exceeded our audition signups and had several video auditions as well. From the feedback I'm getting I believe this trend will continue. "
I know you are planning to announce your 2020/2021 season soon, which will be your first full season after being announced as DFT's new Managing Director last December. Any information you can let us know at this time about your plans for the season or what went into picking the shows?
"We are days away from announcing our season! We are just waiting on the rights to one more show so that we can announce the season in its entirety. I am so excited about these shows. There is something for everyone... children, teens, adults of all ages. It is the most ambitious season DFT has offered in quire some time. Stay tuned."