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Producing during a pandemic: Inside The Rev's 2020 plans at Merry-Go-Round
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Producing during a pandemic: Inside The Rev's 2020 plans at Merry-Go-Round

Smock interview

The Citizen Lake Life Editor David Wilcox, right, interviews The Rev Theatre Co. Producing Artistic Director Brett Smock about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the company's plans for 2020.

The show will go on, somewhat, at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse this summer.

The Rev Theatre Co. has canceled most of its 2020 shows at the Owasco venue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it announced last week, but the company will also present virtual events to keep theater in the lives of its patrons. In a Facebook Live interview with The Citizen on Tuesday, the company's producing artistic director, Brett Smock, elaborated on those plans.

"At the end of the day, people want to connect to people," he said. "And the theater is the best forum for that."

Smock noted that it's this time of the year when the company normally welcomes the cast of its first show of the season, which would have been "Rocky: The Musical." He assembled the cast of that and other shows that were slated for this summer through an audition process that spanned New York City, Los Angeles and central New York over the winter. And not seeing those talents come together in Auburn to entertain local audiences might be what Smock will miss most about the company's lost 2020, he said. 

"Rocky," which was set to open June 10, was canceled along with "Witness Uganda" (July 8-29) and "Dixie's Tupperware Party" (Aug. 28-Sept. 3). The Pitch, the company's new musicals series at the Cayuga Museum Carriage House Theater, has been canceled as well. The creative teams that were set to come to Auburn to be part of the series this year will instead come next year, Smock said.

Likewise, Smock hopes to find new life for the third show of The Rev's season, "Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair." Scheduled for Aug. 5-26 at the playhouse, the show could possibly have been produced: Phase four of New York's reopening schedule, which includes arts and entertainment venues, is on pace to begin well ahead of the show's opening. But because it's "such a big show" that requires a significant number of personnel to produce, Smock and the company felt it would be safer to postpone "State Fair" to "the very near future," he said.

But those losses haven't dampened the spirits of The Rev, Smock said. He and his staff of 21 will miss the energy of the playhouse and its audiences, but they've been staying busy and optimistic as they try to salvage the season. It would have been the first for the company under its new name, which replaced the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival earlier this year.

"In the face of a crisis like this, I think it readjusts your priorities and it makes you realize that we're grateful to be together," Smock said. "We're grateful to have this platform to be able to provide arts education and entertainment. And that's what we're going to do."

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Both that education and entertainment will come in the form of "The Rev Concert: A Celebration of Art and Community." The event will include some favorite performers from past seasons at the playhouse and a behind-the-scenes look at The Rev's children's program, which has not been able to tour schools for two months due to the pandemic.

Smock said the program will not be able to perform its usual tour of local parks this summer for the same reason.

The concert will also feature a look at how shows are built at the playhouse, updates on developing musicals the company has recently produced, and a spotlight on Auburn-area businesses affected by the pandemic. Smock said the concert will end with him revealing the company's 2021 season. Patrons will be given 10 to 15 options to vote on sometime in the next few weeks, including some of the shows that were canceled, so that The Rev programs "a season that matches what our patrons are looking for," he said.

Following the concert, the final show of the company's season will be produced as planned, but presented in a new form.

"Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" will be recorded professionally and made available online for viewing on computer or smartphone, or casting to television. Smock said the company is also working with the Finger Lakes Drive-In to screen the concert and "Buddy" for those who want to watch the shows with the same friends and family who sit next to them at the playhouse.

"It's our job to figure out ways people can view our product and still have fun doing it," Smock said. 

The Rev is in the midst of contacting all 2020 ticket holders about their options, Smock said. He hopes they'll consider making their purchases donations to the company, as arts organizations are among those most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. The company has already lost more than $1.8 million, he said at a recent city Community Development Block Grant hearing.

So the public's support is more important to The Rev than ever right now. 

"We can't underestimate this moment in history and what it'll do to us," Smock said. "Arts organizations are typically living paycheck to paycheck. That's why we rely on support. So something like this poses a great threat to the organization."

For more information on The Rev and its 2020 plans, visit

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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