Zephyr Theatre offered unique summer event

The+Stillwater+Zephyr+Theatre%2C+in+Stillwater%2C+MN.+Where+multiple+plays+and+shows+have+been+put+on+by+the+cast+and+staff%2C+with+Covid-+19+restrictions.

Photo Courtesy of the Pioneer Press

The Stillwater Zephyr Theatre, in Stillwater, MN. Where multiple plays and shows have been put on by the cast and staff, with Covid- 19 restrictions.

The Stillwater Zephyr Theatre has been doing outside performances throughout the summer despite Covid-19. Ranging from music concerts to plays and troupes, the staff and actors improvised ways for people to enjoy arts and entertainment. In December, they are putting on It’s a Wonderful Life, so Stillwater locals can still experience the traditions they love.

The theatre canceled all performances and events in May. For their first program, from June 15 to July 2, the Zephyr Theatre and Stillwater Community Theatre teamed together to produce Seussical Jr. Each group had nine students with their own director.

“I made the decision early on in the process to have assigned spots on the stage where they would have chairs to sit on, stand up from, and travel around,” director Mike Tober explained.

Students in grades second to ninth participated in classes every week leading to the show dates.

Sophomore Sonja Anderson said of rehearsals, “Seussical was in person, socially distanced with masks and sometimes outside.” 

They did not do actual in-person performances, but rather performed on a stage with no audience. Instead, DVDs of the show were sent to families.

Financially we took a hit because we didn’t have ticket revenue but doing the project was more important than making a profit,” Head director Grif Sadow replied. The experience was still worthwhile, and the actors learned some valuable skills.

The Zephyr strongly believes that the arts are healing and necessary, and therefore it was important to figure out a way to continue offering the arts to patrons even during the uncertain times.”

— Cassidy Hall, coordinator for the Zephyr theatre youth program

“It gave young people involved a sense of purpose, artistic expression and socialization,” Sadow added,

During the summer, the Zephyr hosted a series of music concerts every weekend. Many different varieties of artists and groups were featured.

“The Zephyr decided to hold concerts outdoors…to ensure the comfort and safety for the patrons. It also worked out nicely because the Zephyr has a large parking lot where chairs could be set up 6′ apart and easily accommodate 150 patrons,” Cassidy Hall, coordinator for the Zephyr theatre youth program said.

This idea led to the biggest show of the summer. During August 22-30, the annual Shakespeare show became Shakespeare in the Parking Lot and was performed outside the theater. The show this year was Much Ado about Nothing. The actors were creatively socially distanced when performing and wore masks when “offstage”. The characters would dance in sync on opposite sides of the theatre, while other times, they would use the natural setting around them to lurk or hide.

Hall said social distancing, “led to a lot of creative and inventive blocking! The one scene that required two actors to be within 6 feet of each other had a piece of plexiglass brought on stage to stand between them. There were also multiple copies of props that needed to be handled by two or more actors so that each actor had their own copy of the prop to handle and use.”

Looking forward to December, Zephyr is putting on It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a yearly tradition. The cast and set are all going to be in black and white in gesture to the original 1946 movie. For seating, usually 150 people fit in the audience, but because of social distancing, only 50-60 tickets will be sold per showing. Because guests can still order food and drink, however, they may be unmasked for part of the show. The actors will be unmasked, but have to be 10 feet away from the audience and six feet away from each other. Hall stresses, “Smaller scale productions and classes will be available indoors over the winter.”

These accommodations have not been easy, but Hall said, “The Zephyr strongly believes that the arts are healing and necessary, and therefore it was important to figure out a way to continue offering the arts to patrons even during the uncertain times.”