On with the Show! How Circle Arts Theatre is keeping art alive during COVID

In the landscape of the pandemic, I’ve often wondered what it would look like to go to the theatre again. Not movies or concerts—real-life actors on a stage. Disney+ took the initiative by adding a taping of Hamilton to their service, and this helped abate my theatre craving a little. But there’s something about being apart of the crowd; their cheers, tears, and laughs as we root for the underdog. Seeing the hard work of hundreds of people behind the scenes and on the stage culminate in two hours of pure art.

This year, Circle Arts Theatre celebrates its 52nd season amongst a society of social distancing and face masks. But they aren’t about to be so easily perturbed. I spoke with Robin Williams, the Artistic and Technical Director, and she described how the Coronavirus has changed their practices and performances. “When the pandemic really hit us and everything shut down, we were rehearsing two shows through Zoom. It was tough, but it was necessary.” One challenge of Zoom is the lag between when a person speaks and when it’s delivered, making the timing of the actors’ lines difficult. “We were able to stay up to date with the show so that the moment we would be allowed back to the theatre we’d be able to pick up where we left off or better.”

Now that quarantine has ended, Williams explains that their practices are almost back to normal. Almost. “The big difference? The masks! The actors are wearing masks the entire time. For Love, Loss, and What I Wore, it was a six-person show and we were able to socially distance on stage. But with both Firebringer and now Lend Me a Tenor, we have actors wearing masks the entire time.” Will the actors wear masks during the performances? Williams says yes, but it won’t deter from the experience. “For performances we have the actors wearing clear masks or face shields so everyone can see their expressions. Is it ideal? Of course not. But it keeps our actors safe and the audiences quickly get used to them and completely understand that this is just a part of the theatre at the moment.” 

For those looking to watch the Circle Arts performances from behind a screen, Williams says they’re in the process of gaining streaming rights from their respective publishing houses. Most companies are willing to accommodate by granting permission to stream in light of the pandemic and Williams remains hopeful for approval. For those who want to experience the show live, Circle Arts has taken a multitude of precautions to maintain CDC standards. “We’ve blocked off every other [seating] row and there is a two-seat spacer between parties. Realistically, this means that the largest audience we can have is 40 – 55 depending on how large the groups are. We don’t let patrons into the building until 30 minutes prior to the show in order to minimize congestion in the lobby. Everyone is required to wear masks in the theatre. We have more hand sanitizer than you can imagine and we’re sanitizing every surface.”

Despite a few setbacks in the cost of production, Williams says they’ll still be providing plenty of quality entertainment for the fall season. Lend Me a Tenor, a “hilarious, fast-paced comedy” featuring Tom Henderson, Joy Lindsey, Noah Tarnow, and Kaley Bared, will run from August 28 – September 13, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. It’s the one scheduled for this season, however, Circle Arts has much more in store for future entertainment.

October 2 – 4 and 9 – 11 local celebrities and regulars on stage will be performing classic country songs from hit female artists in “Circle Arts Gone Country!” The shows will feature Yesenia McNett and Mandy McMillian respectively. “This old school concert is perfect for the whole family and sure to get you tappin’ your toes and walkin’ down memory lane,” says Williams. Streaming options will be available for both performances later in the month. The theatre does plan to have a Halloween event (still to be determined) as well as viewings November 13 – 15 for the Wurst Melodrama Series Ever. This year’s Wurstfest was canceled, but Circle Arts has opened its contest to the world. “We are going to let individuals send in their best attempt at a Wurst-themed Parody of a famous movie. Once the videos have been gathered, we will present the Top 10 and let the voting begin. The winning entry will receive a 2021 Season Flex Pass—and of course, bragging rights.” The Wurst Melodrama Series Ever doubles as a fundraising project for Circle Arts, and each vote costs $1.

Williams and crew stand determined to weather through this “new normal” and maintain an optimistic outlook. “We are so excited about the new things we are doing this year. COVID has truly been challenging for us and for the rest of the world. But if you can find the good things out of a bad situation, then it is definitely worth noting.” I can’t wait for the day I can once again attend a show, and incredible people like Williams are taking leaps to make it happen.

Ticket sales, donations, showtimes, and purchases of the recently released book, The Circle Arts Theatre Anthologies can be accessed on their website, http://www.circleartstheatre.org/. Reservations can also be called in at 830-837-6172. Check donations can be sent to 124 Elizabeth St NB, TX 78130. If you’re looking to get involved with the theatre, Williams says they always need actors, designers, costumers, carpenters, and house crew. More information can be found on their Facebook Page, Circle Arts Theatre in New Braunfels. If you’d like to volunteer, e-mail circlearts@att.net.

By Catherine LaCroix