The Gainesville Community Playhouse knows the show must go on, even if it’s almost two years later.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the playhouse, located at 4039 NW 16th Blvd, was working on the production of “Oliver!,” ready for an audience on March 27, 2020. A week before its opening night, it shut down because of the pandemic.
After the theater “went dark,” the cast was no longer able to rehearse, but they maintained contact and updated each other online casually on Zoom with hopes to return in a few weeks. After keeping contact on Zoom for weeks, the cast faced a second delay and the show was officially on hold until the theater decided to entirely postpone the show until 2021.
Jacob Goldberger, 24, has been involved at the Gainesville Community Playhouse since 2014 and currently works as the marketing director of the theater. He said the theater, a nonprofit organization, has survived with money saved from previous successful seasons, money from donors, local grants, four grants from the Florida Department of State totaling $27,580 since 2018 and income from the small productions and virtual performances that took place during the pandemic.
Now, the theater has opened its curtains to its first large-scale musical since the onset of the pandemic. The playhouse held auditions on Sept.19 and 20 for “Oliver!” to fill roles of cast members who left the production since its first casting in January 2020. The show is now set to open Nov. 19.
Due to COVID protocols, audience members, volunteers and staff at the theater will be required to wear face masks during the production. There will also be several hand sanitizing stations around the building. Mobile and print at home tickets are now available in addition to picking up tickets at the theater door the day of the production.
Although “Oliver!” is currently in the works after being pushed back, the production of “The Producers,” which was supposed to take place in early September, is in the process of being rescheduled to March 2022. The production team and cast of “The Producers” were concerned about the COVID-19 Delta variant’s spike during their rehearsal process.
The playhouse announced its decision to postpone “The Producers” on its Facebook and said the health and safety of its patrons, cast and volunteers is the theater’s top priority.
Phil Young, the director of “Oliver!,” said he made sure the production, set for Nov. 19, would not be postponed by the pandemic by taking extra precautions during the rehearsal process. He said he’s excited his cast and crew’s hard work will finally pay off.
Young said cast members must show vaccination cards, and if they are not vaccinated, then they must get weekly COVID-19 tests. Because the cast includes children, the production team will provide weekly home testing kits for the kids, paid for by the theater. However, unvaccinated adult cast members are required to get tested weekly independently, Goldberger said.
Young said at the start of the pandemic that the cast would be the same if they were still willing to perform. Most of the cast remained, but not all could stay because of commitments like marriage or moving.
“It was like losing a puzzle piece, buying another puzzle and finding the pieces that you were missing to place in the original puzzle,” Young, 37, said.
Ashley Vogt, 24, was cast as one of the lead characters Nancy during the initial auditions. Over a year and a half later, she picked up her script to join a new cast and “start from square one” on the production.
The pandemic has an impact on her personal life and career in the performing arts, Vogt said. She was preparing for other opportunities in the theater industry before the virus came.
“It not only squashed all the hard work we put in for ‘Oliver!,’ but also halted my entire industry and future,” said Vogt, the current youth director at Star Center Theatre, also in Gainesville. “Nobody knew if theater was going to come back at all or how long it would take. I’ve been waiting almost two years to do this role I love so much.”
Compared to the theater’s shows at the end of 2020, which were much smaller in its casting and production, “Oliver!” is a big production, with huge musical numbers and a large cast. The playhouse’s first musical since the pandemic, “Fun Home,” had a cast of nine, whereas “Oliver!” has a cast of 33. So far, the shows since the pandemic have also had half capacity audiences to ensure social distancing.
Karter Nancy is a contributing writer for The Alligator.