The Show Can Go On

Dallas-Fort Worth theaters grapple with resuming shows at 50 percent capacity

DFW theaters grapple with resuming shows at 50 percent capacity

Jubilee Theatre presents How I Got Over
Jubilee Theatre is reopening its stage with How I Got Over, June 19-July 19. Photo by Freddie Watkins

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced Phase III of the state's reopening plan, and it includes "fine arts performance halls." That means Dallas-Fort Worth theater companies are technically allowed to begin welcoming back patrons for live, indoor performances, but at a 50 percent capacity, utilizing six-foot distancing, and with strict health and safety guidelines.

But it also begs the question, "is that really going to happen anytime soon?"

For Jubilee Theatre in Fort Worth, the answer is yes. The company had previously postponed its production How I Got Over, a musical review by Nate Jacobs that celebrates the life of Mahalia Jackson and other gospel greats. With this new permission to reopen, Jubilee Theatre is now presenting the show from June 19-July 19 — with opening night landing on the theater's 39th anniversary.

Most others, however, are planning to remain closed. Second Thought Theatre announced on June 10 that it was canceling its July 22-August 15 production of Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire (which was originally planned to run in May). The final production of the season, Samuel Beckett's Endgame, is still scheduled to run September 16-October 10.

About Streetcar, outgoing STT artistic director Alex Organ says, "We were so looking forward to bringing this storied play to life and are devastated to have to release it. But we also know it's the right decision. The health of our audience, staff, and visiting artists are our top priority, and we look forward to opening back up when we are able to ensure safety for all involved."

Another factor in many theaters opting to remain closed is the stance of Actors' Equity Association, the national labor union representing professional actors and stage managers in live theater. On April 21, Equity decreed that members may only return to work when the union deems it safe to do so.

A statement from the union issued on June 9 calls out Texas specifically, noting "record high number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients [in the] weeks following its early reopening."

"It is deeply alarming that Texas resuming business as usual led to a surge of COVID-19," says Gail Gabler, the AEA Western regional director, in a statement. "The record number of cases in Texas is a stark and troubling reminder that science must guide our decision-making and safety plans in the theater community. Equity is continuing to work closely with our public health consultant, Dr. David Michaels, on creating science-based protocols for theaters to safely open so that Equity members may to return to work."

While most DFW theater companies are not resuming performances yet, whether because of AEA's moratorium or because operating at 50 percent capacity doesn't make financial sense, members of its community have found ways to keep creating.

Since April, CultureMap has redirected its monthly list of can't-miss local shows to the virtual realm, spotlighting livestreams, recorded rehearsals, Zoom festivals, and other virtual works of theater and dance. You can view June's list here.

Local performers and arts leaders have also found new ways to connect with audiences, keeping alive the important social discussion that theater creates.

Denise Lee, who hosts Community Conversations in collaboration with Change the Perception, has moved her talks online. Instead of focusing on speakers or panels, the public conversations are meant to "promote dialogue between the citizens of Dallas and surrounding areas in an effort for us to tear down whatever perceived walls separate us."

On June 2, Lee hosted a Zoom conversation that explored today's climate for black men with the theme "The Burden They Carry." It proved so popular that Lee will be hosting another conversation on Stars in the House, the twice-daily YouTube series from SiriusXM star and Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky that supports The Actors Fund and its services.

Lee will be joined by Devon Miller, Brandon White, Thomas Collier, Jerome Stevenson, and David Stewart to "help shed light on what it means to be an African man in today's world." They will collecting donations for Mothers Against Police Brutality, Inc.

The program is airing on June 11 at 1 pm, and can be viewed via YouTube, Facebook, or on the Stars in the House website.