It’s been a year since the performing arts was put on its “pause” as many people who work in the arts like to say. Not shut down, not lockdown but pause. The resiliency of the performing arts shines bright in Spokane as two of the major theaters, Spokane Civic Theatre and Best of Broadway, have been able to stay engaged with the community during this pause while optimistically planning for the future.
At the Spokane Civic Theatre, the pandemic hit in the middle of its sold out run of “Cabaret” in its Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre and when it was about to start a run of “The Humans” on the Main Stage. Both shows had to be canceled and the Civic was forced to pivot.
It began with its first Civic Presents in September when they created an answer to the announcement that kids would not be returning to school in person. They created a young artist showcase so young artists had a platform to perform on.
“That was crazy,” said Jake Schaefer, the creative director at the Civic Theatre. “The community far and wide responded to that with a sense of hopefulness and also gratitude that there was an opportunity provided to remind us how bright and great our future is with these young kids. That definitely was a well-received virtual production.”
They then went on to do a few more Civic Presents, a radio show of “A Christmas Carol” and they collaborated with the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on the “Dressing the Abbey” exhibition.
Up next, on its schedule is “Civic Presents: Leading Ladies” on March 19 at 7:30 p.m. which will be a virtual production and the price of the ticket is a donation comfortable to the donor.
“I’m excited about ‘Leading Ladies’ because there is undeniable talent in this group,” Schaefer said. “There are ladies in this group who have been gracing this stage for 30 years and some incredibly talented women who are newer to the stage both Civic and otherwise. So that’s very exciting.”
For Best of Broadway, it’s been difficult because they bring touring productions of major Broadway musicals into Spokane.
“You have to kind of understand how entertainment works,” said Justin Kobluk, president of Best of Broadway. “It’s not necessarily start one week, stop one week, pick it right back up. We’re working on stuff that’s a year, two years, three years down the road.
“So, in March of 2020 when we were told everything has to pause, everything has to stop, obviously that hit everything that was in the theaters. But as the year went on without events it also started pushing things around for the season after and the season after that. What we thought was going to be a couple months interruption turns out to be longer and then when we thought we were going to get back into the theater in ’21 we found out that we weren’t.”
Three seasons of shows have ultimately been impacted by the pandemic. During the ’19-’20 season “Jersey Boys” and “Mean Girls” had to be rescheduled. The entire ’20-’21 season was rescheduled which will ultimately decide what the ’21-’22 season will look like.
“We’re planning on doing some pretty special releases and additions,” Kobluk said. “Next season we would normally rent the facility 40 to 50 times a year for performances. Next season we’re already committed to rent the building about 110 times for all the shows that have moved into that space and the new stuff we are launching. When it comes back it’s going to be big, but it has to come back.”
Over the next year or so the First Interstate Center for the Arts' stage will be graced by the touring productions of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Cats,” “Mean Girls,” “Anastasia,” “Jersey Boys,” “Come From Away,” and “Hamilton” along with a few other productions that have not been announced yet.
“Most tours are starting back again in the fall or are planning on starting back in the fall,” Kobluk said. “But, we’ve been through this dance before. We thought we’d be back well before now and so now looking at the fall, where we are with vaccinations and where we are with different states and different routing because it’s not just us. These tours go from state, to state, to state. It’s looking better and better and better. We’re cautiously optimistic that we are getting back and we will be back.”
Cautious optimism seems to be the attitude among most people in the performing arts as theaters reopening begins to come closer.
“I think we hear a lot about the resiliency of the arts across history,” said Brianna McCracken, the marketing director at the Spokane Civic Theatre. “Now we’re living in a global pandemic and we’re seeing that with our own eyes. Every arts organization globally has been put in a situation where we must adapt and sometimes that means our productions are not typical. We can’t be in person right now and yet we still have this really incredible community support that has been really incredible to see throughout the year.”
Supporting local theater helps it stay alive and ensure that it can return after the pandemic is over.
“We recognize that students, especially college students, don’t always have discretionary funds to be donating at this point in their lives so another thing that students can do to support Spokane Civic Theatre as well as other arts organizations is to share our social media posts and also share with their friends by word of mouth what’s going on,” McCracken said. “They should watch “Leading Ladies” and watch our virtual showcases and engage with us. That’s something that’s huge that community buy in. it’s something that is easy for a student to do and hopefully it’s an enjoyable experience as well.”
These theaters have been working to create an experience that is not a substitute for live entertainment but an entertaining placeholder for the time being until the live theater can return in full force.
“The people, the community, has definitely reminded me how strong the human spirit is and how unwavering intrigue and curiosity can be if presented in a way that is accessible,” Schaefer said. “Everyone is interested until the interest is not received. For us it’s very much been the same experience but from the opposite angle. We want our virtual productions to be good and the experiences to be great too and while people are doing that remotely there is so little buy in. However, the responses have been staggering and the loyalty and determination to stay in a creative world has for me been super inspiring.”