NEW BERN, N.C. — After months of waiting for community theater to return, the show can finally go on. Local theaters across the state are opening up and getting ready for their first productions in over a year. While the audience is excited for some entertainment, the actors are ready to get back to pursuing their passion.
“It just feels so good to be on stage around people with a script in my hand learning lines,” actress Jennifer Cook said.
It's been more than a year since Cook has been able to perform on stage with the Rivertowne Players in New Bern. Now, she's once again able to set foot in the theater.
“When I walked in, just the smell overwhelmed me,” she said. “It's not always a great smell, but it was the theater smell. It was the smell of the curtains and this old historic building and just being in here. It's very inspiring.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down theaters early last year, many productions were already in the middle of rehearsals.
“We put in a lot of work,” Cook said. “And so there was some devastation there of not being able to show our community what we had done and the beauty of those shows that we had wanted to share.”
Director Susie Tilley decided to test the new normal with a small-scale play, "Steel Magnolias."
“We didn't want to put on a whole show and then lose money off of it, because we've already been losing money for a whole year,” Tilley said.
This six-person play will be much cheaper than musicals and more elaborate productions with large casts.
“As soon as we put out 'Steel Magnolias' it was like 'oh my goodness.' Everybody has been like 'when do the tickets go on sale,'” Tilley said. “I think everybody has just been so missing the arts and missing the excitement of live theater.”
Actress Mackenzie McCracken has been missing that excitement as well. She loves performing, but it definitely takes practice to get back into the rhythm of things after a year of COVID-19.
“It's weird. My mom calls it 're-entry anxiety,'” McCracken said. “We remember what it used to be like. We remember, and it was fine. But we've gotten so used to this new normal, and now we're gonna go back to the old normal. And there's nothing wrong with the old normal, in fact I prefer the old normal.”
McCracken says their small cast is vaccinated so their rehearsals aren't too different from normal. It just takes some getting used to.
“It's very bizarre to be out and be around people, and touching people's hair and getting in people's faces when they're like yelling at you, and you're like 'oh, I forgot,'” McCracken said.
Despite all the setbacks this past year has brought, these actresses are ready to pour out their hearts on stage.
“When we do open, whether it's 10 people who are allowed in here or a hundred and 10 people, we're going to give them everything that we have and hopefully entertain the masses,” Cook said.
The Rivertowne Players will be performing "Steel Magnolias" July 16-18 and July 23-25. Tickets are available on their website.
This isn't the only local theater breaking a leg after a year in the dark. Here's a list of a few other theaters opening their doors:
- New Bern Civic Theater: "Clue" – September 2021
- Raleigh Little Theater: "As You Like It" (outdoors) – July 23-31
- North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theater: "Young Frankenstein" – October 22 – November 7
- Theatre Raleigh: "Oh, What A Night" – July 7-11
- Belk Theatre (Charlotte): "Rent" – November 9-14
- Ovens Auditorium (Charlotte): "Wicked" – September 8-October 3
- Asheville Community Theater: Summer camps run June-July. First live performance in October