Seats are empty, but the show must go on. Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, community theaters in the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County have had to adapt from live stage performances to virtual presentations.
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine banned large gatherings to stop the spread of the deadly virus, local theater companies like the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre got creative and moved to streaming services. It was a must to keep their audience entertained and engaged.
“We’ve switched from being a community theater to being kind of a web broadcast studio. It’s becoming a whole different animal,” CVLT spokesman Andrew Rothman said. Creating events just for the web was a first for this group.
Shifting to this platform was more than a matter of gaining rights to post the plays or technical issues, Mr. Rothman said. The small volunteer group of community residents suddenly found themselves competing with giants like Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime, Mr. Rothman said.
Brett Boardwine, managing director of Thrive Performing & Visual Arts, is facing challenges as the group moves to take over the Geauga Theater in Chardon. The group was selected last fall by a committee after the former theater group dissolved. In January, Thrive worked out the management and lease agreement with Chardon city officials.
Mr. Boardwine said competing with larger organizations is nothing new.
“I would argue that we have always been competing with streaming services. In fact, theaters are always competing with all other forms of entertainment,” Mr. Boardwine said. “What has changed is that we are trying to compete on the streaming services’ turf. This is a nearly impossible feat.
“The strategy is to simply stay relevant by putting out high-quality material that captures at least some of the essence of attending a show,” Mr. Boardwine said.
Mr. Rothman said CVLT has made this an opportunity to bring great shows to a viewable format.
CVLT presented a special streaming event in February of the production “Elliott & Me,” a musical comedy about real life songwriter Elliot Willensky and his younger brother Steven trying to make it on Broadway. Elliott died in 2010 before the play was finished, but his brother continued working on the production.
In addition, CVLT will be streaming its own production of the H.G. Wells radio play “War of the Worlds” and will feature its own percussion and sound effects as a homage to classic radio plays. The play will be recorded and open for admission on the CVLT website, cvlt.org, April 16-18.
“This whole journey is a testament to the truth of age-old sayings like, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’” Mr. Boardwine said. “Our organization will reemerge with new life into an exciting, new chapter. We are optimistic and excited about the inevitable resurgence of live entertainment.”
Live shows for these community theaters still have not been scheduled.