It’s become the same old story: everyone has had to make changes to their routines, their plans, to deal with the realities of living during a pandemic. Dr. Mick Sokol from the Drury University Theatre Department joined us on “Arts News” to talk about the department’s children’s show, “Charlotte’s Web,” to be performed Wednesday Sept.16 through Saturday Sept.19 all at 7:30pm, and with an additional Saturday matinee at 2:00pm, in Drury’s Wilhoit Theatre.
The production has been simmering for many months, since it was originally scheduled to be performed last spring—B.C. (Before COVID-19). Sokol said he finds it “interesting” to think back on that, “because it tell you how little we knew what was coming. When they extended Spring Break a week, we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll just push “Charlotte’s Web” back one week’.” No one, of course, had any idea just how long the pandemic would continue—or the near-complete shutdown it would cause.
“But it (Charlotte’s Web) actually became the first show of the Fall (2020) semester. I mean, the set was half-done, sitting on the stage. The costumes were finished. We even have the same cast!” And that with E. C. Arnold, one of the cast members, graduating this summer. (Dr. Sokol made sure to mention both him and Kylie Compton, who had accompanied him to the KSMU studios… but since we’re restricting the number of guests allowed in the Master Control studio to one at a time, they had to remain in the lobby.) “We were like, ‘Do you still wanna be in the show?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I want to be in the show!’” Arnold remained in Springfield after graduation, and could make himself available to perform in the postponed production. “So we have an alum in the show as well as all the other students who are in it.”
When asked if there will be an online stream of the show in addition to the live performances, Sokol said, “It’s a yes-and-no answer. Probably for most of the people who are listening right now, no, it’s only live. What we normally do for the (children’s) show is, we bus in tons of children, about a thousand of them, from Springfield Public Schools, and pack ‘em in real tight! Obviously, we’re not doing that this year. So we’re going to record (the production) and stream it to the schools, right into their classrooms. But the performances for the general public will be in Wilhoit, and that will be seated.”
How to describe what audiences will see on stage? After all, it’s “Charlotte’s Web,” said Sokol. “If you’ve seen the film, read the book, it’s along those lines. It’s a stage version of it. And, obviously, it’s designed for children, though I think adults will enjoy it as well—it’s a great story. It’s ‘Charlotte’s Web!’ I don’t know what else to say! Most people will probably go in knowing the story.” He said the running length is about 45 to 50 minutes.
Audience members will be required to wear face masks... but so will the cast! “Of course, we had to make some changes: the actors are wearing masks as well. The masks are part of the costume, essentially, whether it’s a pig or a spider or whatever the case may be. And something we don’t normally do: we’re micing the show. We bought body mics, because people are speaking through masks, so that’s a new one for us. We’re hoping it’s going to work—you know, it’s our first post-COVID show. But we’re going to make it happen. That’s what we do, we do theater. And it’s been very challenging, moving things around and adjusting to new rules—and the rules seem to change almost daily. But we’re going try and do theater, we’re going to do it safely. Come join us.”
Sokol added that social distancing for the audience shouldn’t be a problem. “We normally get a small crowd for the children’s show anyway. It’s rare that we get more than 50 people at a performance. So we’ll have no problem with the social distancing. We’ve set it up skipping rows and spacing it out. I mean, we know the drill at this point.”
Ticket prices are $14 for adults; $7 for senior citizens and non-Drury students; and $3 for Drury faculty, staff and students, as well as children under the age of 12.
The Drury Theatre department has had to make other changes due to the pandemic. “We moved our musical to mid-October--normally it’s in mid-November—so we can get all the shows in before fall break, because they’re predicting that the virus could get worse when the weather gets colder. So we want to get the shows done fast!” That will be “Seussical the Musical,” now scheduled for October 7-10 in Wilhoit Theatre. “It’s like our semester for young-people theater. To be honest with you, I’m not sure how that one’s going to be. That could be a stream, that could be live. We already have the rights for the show, now we’re acquiring the rights for streaming and all that stuff. It’s also separate rights if you want to film it and then stream it. So there’s live-stream rights, and then there’s film.”
Sokol said he occasionally worries that the publishers of the “Charlotte’s Web” stage adaptation must wonder what’s going on at Drury—“we moved the dates, like, three or four times… and then we said, ‘Can we live-stream… can we record…?’ But no, they understand. They’ve been really great with us.”
Tickets are available Monday through Friday from 1-5pm by calling the Wilhoit Theatre box office at 873-7255.