Spanning more than three decades, Lees-McRae College Summer Theatre has entertained sellout after sellout at Hayes Auditorium with memorable productions and superb performances. The summer of 2020 was set to be another landmark season, as the group was set to host its 36th season of summer plays and musicals. However, the ability for the temporary getaway of the theatre was interrupted by real-life crisis, as the global COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of shows for LMC’s summer season.
Undaunted, LMCST Artistic Director Janet Speer expressed confidence in the theater’s ability to not only survive, but to thrive on the other side when LMCST is set to resume its performances in the summer of next year.
“We just didn’t feel like we could responsibly do the shows this summer. We’re extremely sad about it. We had the productions cast and were ready to go with 100 people lined up to do the shows and had to backtrack all that,” Speer said. “In the big scheme of things, we realize that we’re small potatoes compared to how much suffering has been gone on.”
The planning for a season of LMC Summer Theatre is practically a year-long process, with the initial groundwork laid for the coming season occurring immediately after the current season concludes.
“We start a year ahead, so as soon as we close the current year’s Summer Theatre, we begin preparations for the following year. We were really poised and ready, and then what we had to do was start thinking about maybe cutting our first show, which was our initial plan,” Speer explained. “Then we thought if we had to cut our second production, we would need to go ahead and cancel the third show as well, since it is so hard to bring in actors, particularly from distances for one show when they were dependent on salaries for two shows.”
Speer explained that the program is looking to be bigger and better than ever, pandemic permitting, using the extra time to further enhance planning and preparation for the 2021 edition of LMCST and utilizing the same productions which were already slated to be performed this summer.
“We’re going to pluck that season up and do it next summer and we’re all ready to go. We’ll have some actors we will need to replace who will have other jobs, but we feel like we can, for the most part, just take the work we did and go right into next summer,” Speer added. “Because we’ll have so much time, we’ll be able to do some things (with the productions) that we haven’t been able to do before. I wrote a show (for this season), and that show can now be tweaked for a year, which is pretty exciting. I did it in one year, so now I will have an additional year to work on it and tweak it with the musicians. At this point in time, we really don’t have an idea what the complexion of theatre is going to look like, as people social distance and things like that, so we’re also looking at ways to keep people safe in the theatre. Having a large theater really helps us in that respect.”
With the extra time to prepare, LMC is going to observe how New York and other theatrical hotbeds are approaching any return to a new normal with its presentations, taking cues from them in terms of the principles Summer Theatre can utilize for its performers and patrons.
“It’s a crazy world right now, but we’re up to it and going to follow through, doing the right thing and the safe thing,” Speer noted.
With such a stark change in scheduling, Speer shared that patrons and all who affiliated with and derive enjoyment from Lees-McRae Summer Theatre have been kind and gracious in their support of the program.
“When we made the announcement, we received so many lovely notes telling us how much they will miss this year’s production, but people get it and they have been supportive in the responsible decision that we made,” Spear recalled.
To attempt to fill the void left without productions live on stage, LMCST plans beginning on June 1 with “Rag Time,” and running throughout the summer with additional productions, to host virtual recollections and memories of performances past via Facebook.
“We’re going to select a show and talk about the memories of that show, share photos and maybe have artists perform selections from that show,” Speer explained. “We plan to go through the summer and hopefully beyond to help keep people aware of who and where we are, and to help keep interest going.”
LMC Summer Theatre is accepting contributions to assist it with the transitioning of shows to next year, as investments and financial commitments were made in preparation for this year. Levels of financial gifts are available for viewing on the LMCST website by clicking to lmc.edu/community/summer-theatre/giving or by mailing contributions with the designation for Lees-McRae Summer Theatre to P.O. Box 128, Banner Elk, N.C. 28604.