How does a theater convince audiences to return with a pandemic still not fully contained?
The Little Theatre of Alexandria is known for presenting large productions, including musicals with big casts and lots of volunteers. But the theater — along with the rest of the country — shut down in March as the pandemic exploded.
Now the theater has decided to move forward, coming up with what it calls “Small Theatre for Unusual Times.”
This consists of a series of three one-act plays, starting with “Love Letters,” running for eight performances between Sept. 11 and Sept. 27.
Tickets are free, but must be reserved ahead of time.
President Russell Wyland said they want audiences to be comfortable in the theater.
Part of that is “making sure that if they’re not comfortable, they don’t feel like they have to stick around because they’ve paid for the show,” Wyland said. “It’s all about getting used to live theater again.”
The auditorium of the long-standing community theater on Wolfe Street seats 215, but for the upcoming three small shows, only 46 seats will be available.
Wyland said the theater has worked with Alexandria Promise and the Alexandria Health Department to establish safety protocols, including how patrons enter and leave, where they are seated and making sure they stay socially distanced from each other. Masks are required to attend.
The theater has installed special air handling filters to make sure the air that everyone breathes is safe.
People hungry for theater are already responding, Wyland said.
Before opening night, only seven tickets were left for the run of the first play, he said, adding that it was encouraging.
“We feel the weight or responsibility that it puts on all of us at the theater to get this right,” Wyland said. “We don’t want to end up in the news in the wrong way, so we’re being very diligent in making sure everyone follows the rules.”
Wyland said they aren’t afraid to pull the plug if people are not complying with the safety precautions.
“And since we aren’t charging for it, we feel we can do that very easily,” he said.
“Love Letters,” by A.R. Gurney, has a cast of two. Taking on the roles in this production — directed by Joanna Henry — are Nicky and Steve McDonnell. The actors are a married couple in real life, so it wouldn’t be a problem for them to share a stage.
Although the McDonnells could interact with each other in ways that other actors couldn’t, this script calls for them to be apart from each other on stage — while writing and reading their characters’ letters to each other. They will also be distanced from the audience.
Upcoming plays in the series are “Mixed Doubles” and “Belle of Amherst.”
Wyland said, “at some point we’re going to get past this, and when we do, we’re hoping audiences remember us.”
Below are the upcoming shows at the Little Theatre of Alexandria: