DETROIT – When Michigan was forced to shut down in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, it meant theaters and theater jobs went on a hiatus.
That unplanned halt to business was more than a challenge for independent theater companies. Nationwide, an estimated 90 percent of those venues that were forced to close during the pandemic will likely not reopen.
“It was like taking this big puzzle apart, piece by piece, and thinking ‘Oh my goodness. Where are we going to store all these pieces’ until we know what’s up next,” said Vince Derita, president of the Stagecrafters Community Theater.
For the Royal Oak’s Stagecrafters Community Theater, the decision was to not only close but suspend their season on an opening night.
“It was very difficult to look at that cast and crew who had just spent the last eight weeks rehearsing and doing all the things we do to put a production together and now tell them that’s not going to happen,” Derita said.
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However, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowing theaters and venues to reopen stating Oct. 9 may be the revival theaters and those who work inside them have been waiting for.
But reopening for many theaters is a gamble. Under the governor’s new restrictions, indoor capacity is set at just 20 percent. That means for most small theaters, it’s not enough to keep the house lights on.
The pandemic has been hard on some of Detroit’s most iconic theaters, like the historic Majestic Theatre which went up for sale this week, saying the grind of the pandemic was just too much.
In the meantime, theater companies have been getting creative. Stagecrafters is moving outdoors to a stage in front of a small but socially distant crowd to restart their new show, “Working," unsure when they’ll be able to get back onto their home stage. But they said the show must go on now more than ever.
“Live theater brings you in. It kind of lets you sit in that seat and become a character yourself as you’re watching this show. I think it’s important that we do that. I think everyone should get out and get more culturally educated,” said Derita said.