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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Coronavirus: Second Door County theater carves up summer plans

Coronavirus

Northern Sky Theater

Northern Sky Theater presents an outdoor season in Peninsula State Park Amphitheater. (Company photo)

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV)

Northern Sky Theater announced it will cancel its 2020 outdoor season in Peninsula State Park and delay the start of the indoor season in the new Gould Theater due to the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic.

It is the second Door County professional company to substantially alter its summer plans, following announcement by Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. A link: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/coronavirus/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-coronavirus-sturgeon-bay-theater-pulls-its-summer-slate-of-plays/.

Door Shakespeare also altered some of its schedule but left major portions intact.

According to a press release from Northern Sky Theater, the company said hopes to present an abbreviated run of “Dad’s Season Tickets” in the Gould Theater as soon as circumstances allow. Northern Sky Theater’s fall season schedule at the Gould Theater remains unchanged for the time being: “Naked Radio,” scheduled to run Sept. 11-Oct. 31, and “And If Elected,” Oct. 9-29.

The decision to cancel the outdoor season at Peninsula State Park park comes after the company analyzed numerous scenarios, including the financial ramifications of delaying the opening of the park shows.

“The park season is a large operation that requires a significant investment in upfront and fixed costs,” said Dave Maier, managing director. “Our performance window there is only 11-12 weeks, so a major opening-day delay would make our outdoor season financially untenable. Our indoor season, however, requires much less upfront preparation time, making a late start in the Gould more manageable.” Ultimately, the difficult decision came down to what was most responsible for the safety of our cast and crew, our volunteers, our patrons and our community as a whole.”

Northern Sky Theater typically employs more than 60 seasonal cast, crew and support staff from mid-May through Labor Day. Company members join them from across the country. Northern Sky Theater also relies on the help of more than 270 volunteers to assist with many customer-service and maintenance functions.

The company was poised to celebrate several anniversaries in 2020, including 50 years of performing in its outdoor home in Peninsula State Park, 30 years as a professional company and its first full season in the new Gould Theater.

“This is a tough one,” said Jeff Herbst, artistic director. “We have cast and crew that rely on us year after year for their summer employment and loyal fans, who make attending Northern Sky in the park part of their Door County experience.”

Although the decision to cancel an outdoor season is unprecedented by the troupe, the company has weathered tough times in the past.

“The death of Fred Alley in 2001 with 9/11 falling on the heels of that loss was a very bleak time. Fred was one of our most prolific writers and performers, and there were certainly some days that we wondered how we would go on,” Herbst said. “But you know what’s been constant? Our patrons, our supporters and our volunteers. They have been by our side cheering us on through it all.”

Maier said, “We are crossing our fingers that it will still be possible to welcome patrons to the Gould Theater this season. By acting now and making this tough choice to suspend our plans in the park, the company will be able to conserve resources and maintain a state of readiness.

Herbst said, “Ultimately, this is the responsible thing to do in light of the national crisis. Obviously, we want to keep on doing what we do. Who doesn’t, right? But we can’t, yet. So, like everyone else, we’ll adjust and figure out how to keep creating new works in a new way and keep building on our 30-year history.”

Additionally, Herbst told patrons in an email, “We have been wrestling with this decision for the past month, creating numerous what-if scenarios in the hopes of being able to present both in the park and at the Gould, as originally planned. This ambitious plan had us doing a series of rolling openings of the nine shows we intended to present over the course of the summer and fall. It also required essentially two separate companies to make both venues operational concurrently. This meant that we’d need a certain amount of lead-time to get everything prepared for the park before shifting our focus to the Gould. We have lost a bunch of that lead time already, and with the unknown date of when we can all safely gather again, it has become impossible to plan on bringing over 60 people to the county from all over the country to take on the task of getting both venues up and running. In addition, we have over 270 volunteers that we count on to make our patrons experience be the best it can be. And, because the park venue is outdoors, it requires a much larger employee and volunteer staff than the Gould to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Focusing on the Gould now will at least give us a chance of making something happen when we can safely convene.”

The summer season would have included a world premiere, “Love Stings.” That will be in the lineup for a future production,” Herbst said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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