What do you do when you have a group of 10 talented middle school students ready to dazzle audiences with a production of “Singing in the Rain,” but a global pandemic shuts you down a week before showtime?
If you’re Leah Heidenreich, artistic director of Young People’s Theater, you wait, keep rehearsals going on Zoom and know that, eventually, the show will go on.
“Young People’s Theater isn’t going anywhere,” she said, though all productions have been delayed for the time being until coronavirus public health metrics allow the San Miguel County COVID-19 risk dial to drop from red to orange. While the middle school production of “Singing in the Rain” was slated to open Friday, the show, along with all other productions in the works, have been put on hold, with new dates to be determined.
“We are following all the restrictions and guidelines, and it’s challenging working in an indoor venue,” said Ronnie Palamar, executive director of the Sheridan Arts Foundation.
In order to comply with previous limitations on group sizes, she noted, the children’s theater program had already limited cast sizes to 10, taking on the gargantuan task of producing not the usual one musical per age group, but two or three per age group.
“Normally we would have between 25 and 30 kids in the middle school musical,” explained Heidenreich. “But obviously we couldn’t do that this year, so we divided it into three middle school musicals, two for high school and two for elementary school. We really felt it was important to make sure that all these kids are still getting the same experience.”
Middle school casts are working on the beloved classics “A Christmas Carol” and “Annie,” along with “Singing in the Rain,” while high school casts will eventually present productions of “Cinderella” and “Tuck Everlasting.” Elementary-age thespians will also perform in two musicals on future dates.
“When we are able to, we will make it happen on the stage whether we have a live audience or not,” said Heidenreich of the importance of the stage experience for young actors.
Under the orange risk level, the Sheridan Opera House can permit an audience of up to 50 spectators, wearing masks inside the building and seated in pods. As long as the risk level stays at red, the opera house will remain closed for productions, and the casts will continue working on the shows via Zoom.
“We’re on hold and waiting right now,” said Heidenreich, “but in the meantime, to keep the show fresh and the kids excited about theater, I’m implementing one-on-one and group rehearsals to go over the choreography and the singing, so that when the level drops back to orange, we are ready to go.”
Producing theater and live performances during a pandemic is fraught with uncertainty, said Palamar. The Sheridan Arts Foundation, a nonprofit, not only brings high-quality entertainment to Telluride’s residents and visitors but maintains the historic Sheridan Opera House building, an iconic venue built in 1913. Maintaining the building, keeping staff employed, and scheduling artists and shows are costly ventures during a pandemic that has kneecapped the entertainment industry.
Nonetheless, Palomar is finding creative ways to keep music in the air. With the help of a Town of Telluride grant, the opera house purchased outdoor heaters for the patio to host small events and shows throughout the winter as restrictions allow. Some performances, including those of Young People’s Theater productions, will be available for streaming online, with tickets purchased through the Sheridan Opera House website benefiting the foundation and keeping the venue going.
Those interested in supporting the Sheridan Arts Foundation during Noel Days — this year, a three-night run Wednesday through Friday — can do so by stopping by to purchase a plein air painting. Artists from September’s plein air events are offering their works at 20 percent off, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the non-profit.
“The artists all agreed 100 percent to discount their paintings to support us,” said Palamar. “If anyone can give, we truly appreciate it. It’s a hard time to ask for funding, but we know there are a lot of people here who really love theater. It’s good for our souls.”
“Singing in the Rain,” meanwhile, will be rescheduled as soon as restrictions allow, and those who would rather watch the performance from home will be able to do so by purchasing a $10 ticket.
“The show is a huge undertaking, and the kids have absolutely crushed it,” said Heidenreich. “There’s so much in our world this year that’s been so hard to stomach it’s just what we need right now.”