People’s Light recently announced a reimagined 2020/2021 Season, which includes an investment in filmed theatrical productions and a hopeful return to live theatre in March 2021.
“People’s Light is a place of gathering and storytelling, yet how do we gather during an unyielding pandemic?” asks Executive Artistic Director Abigail Adams. “There’s so much we don’t know and so much out of our control. But theatremakers are trained to envision and create worlds that are not yet possible. In that spirit, we want to share our hopes for a reimagined 2020/2021 Season, but also wish to be candid about the factors that might lead to further shifts in programming.”
Based on the status of COVID-19, local and state guidelines, and the requirements of the unions who represent the artists whom People’s Light employs, the Theatre cannot proceed with its 2020/2021 Season as originally conceived. The world premieres of Mushroom by Eisa Davis and Producing Director Zak Berkman’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol will be postponed to the 2021/2022 Season. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun is postponed until Winter 2022, when People’s Light hopes to welcome local students on campus again. These three plays join the world premiere of Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland as productions delayed by COVID-19 that People’s Light is committed to stage in the 2021/2022 Season. Lee Blessing’s play Tea With The Boss (formerly titled Vivie) will not be staged next season; future plans for this production are not yet confirmed.
Throughout Fall and Winter 2020, People’s Light will present two or three filmed plays through their digital stage Always On, along with a streamed Holiday Concert featuring traditional holiday music and original songs from their in-progress adaptation of A Christmas Carol. “So much of filmed theatre is an archived recording of a live experience, and the home viewer is continually aware that they are not in the space where the story was designed to be experienced,” says Producing Director Zak Berkman. “For us, the opposite will be the case. The staging, sets, costumes, lights, and sound of the filmed performances will be conceived for the cameras, and audiences at home.” People’s Light hopes to announce titles and release dates for their virtual programs soon after Labor Day.
The ability to execute filmed productions depends on the evolving public health situation and permissions from artist unions. As of now, there is no agreement between the unions and the League of Resident Theatres of which People’s Light is a member. People’s Light hopes that in the next few months, they will be able to safely bring together small teams of theatremakers and filmmakers into their Steinbright Stage, which will be converted into an indie soundstage. Following all safety precautions and protocols, these teams will collaborate to produce filmed versions of critically-acclaimed plays designed specifically for the home viewer.
Around the world, companies like People’s Light are trying to estimate when it might be possible to safely produce live theatre again. Some have determined they can reopen as soon as January 2021, while others have cancelled their next season entirely. People’s Light is hopeful there will be sufficient testing and enhanced safety measures in place for them to return to live performances in March 2021 with a spring of new American plays and musicals.
Spring 2021 will include three staged productions– the previously announced world premieres of Walden by Amy Berryman, directed by Jackson Gay; and Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical written by B. Jeffrey Madoff with the music of Lloyd Price, directed by Sheldon Epps; along with a third production to be announced by December 2020. Specific performance dates are not yet confirmed.
“December doesn’t give us a lot of time to put this TBD production together,” acknowledges Producing Director Zak Berkman, “but with so much upheaval, so many uncertainties, and our society experiencing such a vital reckoning with its history and identity, it’s important we wait and invest in a new piece of theatre that has the greatest opportunity to embrace the historic moment, fill our hearts, and tell a story that demands a shared response.”
Next spring will also feature a series of free play readings, including Mushroom by Eisa Davis and Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland by Steve H. Broadnax III, both of which will premiere as fully staged productions in the 2021/2022 Season. Readings of new plays by women focused on reshaping our future will surround their production of Walden and include Laura Schellhardt’s New Play Frontiers commissioned play The Game & The Change, inspired in part by her residency in Coatesville, PA. Additional readings will be announced in December.
The 2020/2021 Season ends in the summer with two previously scheduled productions that reunite longstanding People’s Light company members: Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, directed by Executive Artistic Director Abigail Adams, and Sherlock Holmes and The Raven’s Curse by R. Hamilton Wright, directed by David Bradley.
“Over the past few months, we have done what we can to remain in contact and collaboration with our Resident Company of Artists, but we profoundly miss their presence,” says Adams. “We have heard from so many longtime patrons about how these artists are like their old friends and what a loss it is to not see them. We hope beyond hope our part of the country will be safe enough for this summer reunion to take place.”
All of this is conceived in hope. No one knows what’s in store in the months ahead, but People’s Light is committed to remaining a hub of vibrant storytelling and unforgettable experiences, where people from all parts of the region connect with each other and celebrate their shared humanity. Online, outside, or in the theatre, People’s Light remains a People-First organization that aims to bring a little light into your lives. For that reason, they hope that you will stick with them: keep subscribing, keep checking out what’s new on Always On, and keep supporting artists who are physically and economically vulnerable in this crisis.
If you’d like to join People’s Light as a new subscriber, consider a flexible People’s Pass subscription. It includes six open tickets that can be redeemed in any combination to any production. They recently expanded its flexibility so that Passes purchases now can be redeemed for any digital or staged production in the 2020/2021 Season AND the following 2021/2022 Season. People’s Pass holders can exchange tickets between dates, times, and productions without incurring exchange fees or upgrades, and take advantage of payment plans.