It’s as though someone hit the “pause” button on the Bristol Riverside Theatre stage.
At one moment, in March 2020, the space was full of life as the cast of Cabaret – BRT’s most costly production to date – wowed audiences with show-stopping numbers like “Maybe This Time” and “Willkommen.” But then the global pandemic hit, forcing Cabaret to come to an abrupt halt after less than a handful of performances.
Almost a year later, the intricate set still sits on the dark stage, waiting patiently for patrons to return. Co-producing director Ken Kaissar has hope that the beloved local theater can welcome guests back (at a limited capacity, of course) by this fall.
“We feel like we’re coming out of this,” Kaissar told The Times.
Recently, BRT released the lineup for its 2021-22 mainstage season, which launches Sept. 28 and includes A Comedy of Tenors, Skeleton Crew, I and You, Murder for Two and A Few Good Men. These shows were originally planned for the canceled 2020-21 season. Kaissar stressed that, depending on how the pandemic evolves, the schedule may change.
“Comedy of Tenors has people running after each other, kissing. It’s that sort of romantic farce and it may not be the most safe thing to do right away, whereas I and You is two people. We may move that to the beginning and give more time to adjust for the safety of our actors,” he said. “We certainly have a few options if it does happen, if it doesn’t quite work out that way. If we’ve learned anything from this whole situation, it’s having to be flexible.”
As for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, which included almost the full run of Cabaret and Kaissar’s creation A Leg Up, the BRT team has every intention of bringing both shows back when the time is right. There’s a possibility for both to be included in the 2022-23 season.
“I really don’t want to do Cabaret with masks. They’re performing in a nightclub, some of them are wearing lingerie. The whole thing would be completely ruined if they’re also wearing masks,” Kaissar said. “We were very proud of the show. It’s one of the great shows of our history and I think we will bring it back. It’s just a question of when. We may have to store the set and then bring it back out when we’re ready.”
In the meantime, a few things are set in stone. The play Singles in Agriculture, directed by Ken’s wife Amy and written by Brooklyn-based Abby Rosebrock, will be performed live online Jan. 26, 27, 28 and 30, at 7:30 p.m. Two farmers, played by real-life couple Jennifer Byrne (Priscilla) and Timothy Goodwin (Joel), meet at the annual convention for (you guessed it) singles in agriculture.
“It’s all about them trying to connect. It’s very funny, very awkward. It has some darkness to it. It plays on the themes of isolation and not being able to be with people,” said Kaissar. “It’s a wonderful play for right now because I really think people will relate to it with the COVID situation we’re in without it being about COVID specifically.”
Patrons can watch Singles in Agriculture from the comfort of their home. Upon purchasing a ticket, they’ll be sent a direct link for viewing. The production will take place in real time from the actors’ own bedroom, which Kaissar explained has been transformed into a hotel room set.
“Their bedroom becomes the set for the play,” he said. “It’s a different way of working, but we adjust to the time that we’re in the best we can. The actors are in New York City and we have a stage manager in Washington, D.C. We have our technician who’s running it in Philadelphia. It’s this multi-city effort of coordination.”
At the end of each performance, audiences can engage in a Q&A with the actors.
Regarding BRT’s Summer Music Fest, which was presented virtually for the first time in 2020, the warm weather tradition will look a bit different this year as well. Instead of taking place inside the theater, the concert series will be held outdoors at the amphitheater in Bristol Township, located next to the police department on Bath Road. Tickets and the full lineup are slated to be released in February.
“I think they’ll really enjoy the outdoor vibe this summer because you’re not locked in a theater in the hot summer months. You’re enjoying the air, there’s going to be refreshments and concessions,” Kaissar said. “Personally, I think that’s the way the series should be enjoyed. We’re looking forward to a great summer where we’ll all be outdoors and watching some great music. It’ll be nice to see everybody back and gathered again this summer and into the next season.”
Kaissar added that if COVID-19 restrictions are still in place for theaters in the fall, the first several shows of the mainstage season could also take place outside at the amphitheater.
BRT is continuing its online class series, which the Kaissars launched during the pandemic as a way to safely connect with patrons and provide some arts education. In partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Theatre J, upcoming offerings in February include “Inside the Rehearsal Room,” “A Director Prepares” and “How to Watch a Broadway Musical.”
Tickets are on sale now for Singles in Agriculture and the 2021-22 mainstage season. Patrons who were subscribed for the 2020-21 season and didn’t cancel will receive a 50-percent discount on all programming offered this year, including Singles in Agriculture and the Summer Music Fest. Additionally, anyone who subscribes now for the 2021-22 season will receive the discount.
“We’re doing that to thank people for supporting us during this time,” Kaissar said. “We thank people for showing up and participating in our online events. It’s not something that we would have done if left to our own devices. But certainly, in adjusting to what’s happened, it’s been great and people have been game to participate. We really can’t thank our supporters enough.”
Visit brtstage.org or call 215-785-0100 for more information. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org