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Stage Re-Engaged: Live performances return, mostly

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LOL ‘Beautiful Monsters’ is an avant-garde performance piece written by Kelly Gray. Photo by Katie Kelly

Fall is the time when a theater company’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of a new season. Announcements are made, rehearsals are scheduled and the sound of buzzing returns to auditoriums as audiences enter and take their seats in support of live performance.

After being dark for a year-and-a-half, California’s June “reopening” gave theater artists hope that the hunger they felt to return to the stage would be fed by fall. Companies moved forward and scheduled their season openers. All looked promising until the Delta variant reared its ugly head.

As new Health Orders emerged, companies once more found themselves asking, “Should we cancel? Postpone? Move forward?” Throughout the Bay Area, the answer to all those questions has been, “Yes.”

Marin Theatre Company issued a press release on Aug. 11 trumpeting their Sept. 9 season opening with the West Coast premiere of the Obie Award-winning The Sound Inside. Eight days later they issued another press release announcing the postponement of MTC’s opening till Nov. 18, and a change in the opening show to the final installment of the Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon Christmas at Pemberley trilogy. The Sound Inside is postponed until May 2022.

This is all a way of informing the public that anything that follows regarding live theater this fall could change at any minute and several times.

Theaters moving forward have implemented stricter Covid protocols—audience members must show proof of vaccination, masks must be worn at all times indoors, concession sales have been moved outside or cancelled altogether, to name a few—and most require all members of their company—staff, crew and performers—to be fully vaccinated.

Yet with all that, a large question mark continues to hover over the theater community. Will the shows go on? Will audiences show up?

If they do, here’s a sampling of their possible options:

In Marin, the Novato Theater Company has scheduled four weekends of “variety” entertainment, starting in September, featuring open-mic nights for performers of all ages, comedy and a play reading. They’ll follow that up in late October with a full production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

September will also bring the Ross Valley Players production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s uproarious comedy Ripcord, a show last seen locally in a very successful production at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater just before the pandemic hit. RVP’s Barn Theatre will then host the Mountain Play production of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot in November.

In mid-September, the Marin Shakespeare Company will present a new, pandemic-inspired version of Sarah Shourd’s play The BOX.  It’s an immersive, socially distanced experience about resistance and survival in solitary confinement in a U.S  prison, with each person in the audience seated in their own square of a grid at San Rafael’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre.

In Sonoma County, the aforementioned Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma opens with Cry It Out, a dark-hued comedy about motherhood, female friendship, economic status and class.

The Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park will open with the pandemic-delayed production of David Templeton’s new sci-fi play Galatea. The set has been sitting on the Spreckels black box stage since the show shut down three days prior to its opening last year.  

Award-winning drag performer Michael Phillis takes his “Patty from HR” character out of San Francisco’s Oasis Club and brings her to Sebastopol’s Main Stage West for A Zoom with a View, Patty’s/Michael’s response to the current state of America.

Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse follows up their currently running Love, Loss, and What I Wore with a main-stage production in mid-September of Murder for Two. It’s a musical murder mystery performed entirely by a cast of two.

Left Edge Theatre will open their season with a couple of one-acts. Lauren Gunderson’s two-hander I and You is paired with Beautiful Monsters, an avant-garde performance piece written by Kelly Gray.

Sonoma’s Rotary Stage transforms into a decaying Hollywood mansion situated on Sunset Boulevard. The Sonoma Arts Live production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is scheduled to open in late September.

San Francisco-based performer Dan Hoyle brings his long-running solo show Border People to the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center for a single night in September. The Beard of Avon, a farcical look at Shakespeare, will follow it in October.

The current drought won’t prevent Disney’s The Little Mermaid from splashing around Napa next month. Lucky Penny Productions has scheduled the family musical for a three-week run.

Check each theater company’s website for the latest on dates, times, ticket prices and possible postponements or cancellations.