Like many people Missouri State University Managing Director of Theatre and Dance, Mark Templeton, is hunkered down at home during the Coronavirus stay-at-home order. But so are the many students, Theatre and Dance faculty, and theatre professionals who would normally be gearing up for the 58th consecutive season of MSU Tent Theatre, scheduled for June 10-July 18, 2020. The 2020 Tent season has been cancelled, and Mark Templeton discussed the reasons why, and what the Theatre and Dance Department hopes to offer to fill the gap.
"Of course we are devastated to share that news," said Templeton. "And it's pretty ominous that, after 57 years, (due to) these particular circumstances, that for the safety and well-being of our performers and certainly our audience members, that this was a decision not taken lightly, but it was very necessary. And we hope that all of our patrons will hang in there with us, and we're going to move forward, upward, onward to 2021."
Templeton again emphasized that this is the first-ever season cancellation in MSU Tent Theatre history. "Even in some of the most dire circumstances there's just never been a cancellation like this. Obviously, this is something that is very unusual. And of course, all over the country, theaters are suffering because of these cancellations because we are so dependent on summer income and people's support. So we've got a long road ahead of us, but one we're willing to go down."
There are various reasons why cancelling the Tent season was necessary, even if the pandemic eases substantially in the United States by June or July. For one thing, MSU students and faculty are off-campus due to the stay-at-home order. Thus, no one is around to erect the tent behind Craig Hall, or to build sets and costumes, or to rehearse. And that goes as well for the professional actors and technical people who ar invited every summer to participate in Tent Theatre. Tent, after all, is an Actor's Equity company--meaning card-carrying Equity professional actors are brought in to play lead roles. In addition, professional set and costume designers and stage directors are often hired. All of them work with and mentor MSU Theatre and Dance students.
"On all of those things, yes," confirmed Mark Templeton. "The University has already announced that there are no face-to-face classes in the summer. And yet, people need to remember that Tent Theatre is an educational experience for our students... and if you can't have face-to-face classes, that really is a problem for our performers! Everything was working against us in this particular instance. It was troubling to make the decision, but we know (it was) the correct decision. And we're getting a lot of feedback from our patrons from our (press) release, that are very supportive and being very understanding."
MSU Theatre and Dance offers Tent patrons various options if they already bought season tickets during the "Stocking Stuffer" campaign launched during the 2019-20 holiday season. "They can apply for a full refund of those tickets that they purchased; or it could become a tax-deductible donation, which we greatly appreciate; or they could use those (ticket vouchers) toward next season," said Templeton.
What about the three shows that had been scheduled for this season: "Zanadu," Ken Ludwig's "Moon Over Buffalo," and "The Producers"? "Cross our fingers," said Mark Templeton--"this is not 'official'-official at this point, but our intention is to launch this exact season for next year. So it would be the same season, and we will hopefully bring back--we had completed casting totally for the season, technically and our Equity members. Everything was cast and ready to go. And so we've reached out to those people and invited them to join us for next year already. We had a really fun season lined up, but we'lll just have to wait a year to actually do that," Templeton added with a laugh.
Templeton promised that Tent Theatre's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/tenttheatre/, will continue to be updated, as well as the tenttheatre.missouristate.edu website. But they also intend to offer online entertainment content in the absence of live performances this summer.
"Even though we are not going to be engaged in the normal situation, with being under the tent, we are working on some live-streaming programming that people could access through our Facebook page, which will include some living-room performances from some of our distinguished alums and some people that were going to take part in the current company," said Mark Templeton. "We will release that information as we have that all solidified. We're not going to leave anybody hanging--we're still going to try to be out there and be a part of peoples' lives still this summer. It's just going to be on our computers."