Carrollwood Players, a local community theatre company, has opened its doors to audience members once again. The company has been around for 40 years and this past year, they have had to adjust their season to follow COVID-19 regulations.
According to their managing director, Jim Russel, the theatre had shut down for five months due to the ongoing pandemic which was particularly difficult for the company. “We did shut down for 5 months with nothing in person,” said Russel. “But during that time we supplemented our income with online fundraisers, and we did a lot of online entertainment.”
Going online was something that many local theatres had to adjust to, including the Patel Conservatory who did their End of Year Celebration virtually for their graduating arts students. Many arts companies and schools had to shut down and give lessons or perform virtually as well.
The company resorted to performing original shows and activities of the sort online, which helped the lack of income the theatre was receiving.
“Between a lot of extra donations from the community and online programs, and our savings, we were able to stay afloat and we’re still at the tail end of that,” said Russel.
Their 2020-2021 season was not like they expected at all, but has gained the theatre much popularity in how they decided to go about it. They opened their doors in August 2020 with their annual tradition of their “One Act Weekend”. The show was open to a limited capacity of audience members and took place in the bigger of the two theatres in the venue, the mainstage theatre.
The shows that have been produced thus far have been performed with masks worn by all of the cast members as well as audience members. They also have been following strict COVID protocols by making cast members wash their hands and have their temperatures taken before every rehearsal and performance.
They continued with their jam-packed season taking all the precautions needed to continue doing theatre in their space. They have been one of the first theatres to come back in full swing with in-person performances with live audience members in the Tampa area.
Gabe Flores, a three-time director at Carrollwood Players, described his experience thus far, of directing a show in the middle of a global pandemic. Typically, original musicals don’t fall into theatre seasons, but because of the pandemic he is able to direct a show that he both wrote and composed.
“I feel like because of the climate of the pandemic and their need to kind-of adapt, I think it was the right place at the right time. As a history of a successful director, they were looking for a show to do that would hopefully be a better show economically for them […] and I just feel very lucky.”
Along with directing a show, there must be actors to play the parts. A cast member of Godspell, the most recent Carrollwood Players production, describes how his experience acting in a pandemic was like and how different productions are in the current climate.
Cast member, David Fraga, said, “We don’t have food brought in like we used to and things like that. We don’t hand out items and everything is more electronic, which is good. Props and things like that are sanitized each night as well so that way it’s a clean slate. So if you touch something you know it’s clean”.
He also spoke about how different it is to act in a pandemic, especially wearing a mask. Because masks can sometimes muffle sound, “you’ll hear notes about diction […]. Also directing notes will be given to use more facial, like, your eyes’ expressions, your forehead and anything outside of the mouth area”.
Putting on a production in the middle of a pandemic is a new challenge being presented with theatre companies, but Carrollwood Players has deemed successful thus far and they hope that things will keep progressing from here.