The COVID-19 pandemic forced The Rev Theatre Co. to push back opening night a little later than normal.
But, beginning today, the Auburn-based professional theater company is putting on the best show it can under the unprecedented circumstances.
A virtual event, "The Rev Concert: A Celebration of Art and Community," is now live for The Rev's subscribers, ticket-holders and sponsors. Available at broadwayondemand.com, the streaming concert will go live for the general public on Wednesday, Aug. 12. It will also be screened at the Finger Lakes Drive-In on Thursday, Aug. 20.
The company's producing artistic director, Brett Smock, told The Citizen that "The Rev Concert" features several performers from the past few decades at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. About half of the event takes place on the Owasco stage, where a modest set frames a piano in the middle. The company used a skeleton crew that followed safety guidelines, and WSYR recorded the show.
Along with many musical numbers, the concert also features the company's annual presentation of its Thommie Walsh/Merry-Go-Round Playhouse Scholarship in memory of the Tony Award-winning Auburn native. The Rev's 2021 season will be announced during the event as well, just as it would have been on the same stage at this same time of year.
The show will go on, somewhat, at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse this summer.
"We wanted to keep the things that people know about us intact, but dive in a little deeper," Smock said. "It's a two-hour special event that we're really proud of."
The other half of the event is dedicated to the Auburn community, and particularly its arts and culture. The Rev reached out to several local institutions, such as Auburn Public Theater and The Seward House Museum, and offered them spots on the concert to fill however they see fit. Because Smock believes that as the pandemic ravages the arts, it's important they support one another.
"We're all suffering now," he said. "And a lot of times, these are the last organizations that will be remembered when jobs are restored and money is given."
Smock said pricing for the concert is still being finalized. It's like video on demand, in that purchase gives viewers access for 48 hours. And after Aug. 26, he advised, it will not be available.
As the virtual event came together, Smock said, he was surprised how much it evoked what it's like to live and work in the area. That's why he thinks people who don't like theater will still find something to appreciate in what he called "a postcard from Auburn." And for all the negative effects of the pandemic, it offers that kind of perspective, as he and his staff have experienced.
"This season we've all stopped to look at the lake and Emerson Park, and appreciate it in entirely new ways we haven't before," he said. "It's been a reawakening to what we're blessed to have."
Meanwhile, Emerson Park will be the site of another event from The Rev this weekend when the company's education division presents "Whodunit?!" Friday and Saturday, Aug. 7 and 8.
The division's director, Lisa Chase, said the free event is "kind of a living game of Clue." Families will explore the park, interacting with a cast of eight costumed actors as they try to solve a heist.
Like the concert, the park event is the result of The Rev staff thinking about how they could pursue their artistic mission within the new confines of social distancing, Chase said. That's why "Whodunit?!" will take place in blocks at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day. But each block is limited to 20 people, so Chase suggests reserving a time in advance.
Some performers in the event are interns from Nazareth College. Though that partnership continues despite the pandemic, The Rev's education division has otherwise seen its operations change significantly, Chase said. The summer tour presented by the former Merry-Go-Round Youth Theatre has been canceled this year because it would've been challenging to keep its actors safe as they travel by van from one performance to the next across Cayuga and neighboring counties. And when school resumes, the education division will switch from touring to an all-digital platform.
Brett Smock, producing artistic director of The Rev Theatre Company, was interviewed on The Citizen's Facebook Live page on May 26. David Wilc…
The Rev, which normally presents about 50 shows a week in schools throughout the state, will instead offer them either livestreamed or prerecorded shows this year. Schools will also be able to arrange virtual workshops with the theater company, as well as visits that support curriculum, such as an actor portraying Mother Goose reading nursery rhymes. Though plans are still taking shape and districts are still finalizing how they'll reopen, they have been receptive, Chase said. Going digital will also allow the company to expand its reach to schools outside of the state.
Still, Chase hopes The Rev can be physically back in schools soon. Not only has the pandemic limited the number of actors the company can use, it's also limited their artistic possibilities.
"We would love to be back in schools as soon as possible because we know that's what sets us apart. And that's what makes theater exciting, is that communal experience," she said. "It was sad to put together the education part of the concert. It kind of broke my heart, seeing pictures of children in auditoriums and gyms. They're not going to get that this year."