Pier One Theatre postpones summer season due to coronavirus

Another part of Homer’s art scene has been forced to dramatically change its plans because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the Pier One Theatre board of directors decided to postpone its summer season to 2021. It will continue with some programs, but not in the traditional — and socially intimate — form of live theater in its 99-seat auditorium on the Homer Spit.

One way Pier One will do that is at 1 p.m. this Sunday with its Second Sunday Shakespeare program done as an online Zoom conferencing reading. In collaboration with the Kachemak Bay Campus, people can join the Zoom meeting to watch the reading. Visit Pier One’s website at pieronetheatre.org for details.

Although rules restricting assemblies of large groups could be relaxed in a few months, the uncertainty of when that would happen forced Pier One to not hold plays this summer, said artistic director Jennifer Norton. The first play was planned to open May 16.

“We were looking at, could we do it piecemeal and go project by project, cancel the early part of the season and not the later part and hope for the best,” she said.

However, rights to perform plays have to be licensed for specific dates. Production would have to start now with auditions and rehearsals, something difficult to do under current social distancing rules. It would be better to disappoint the directors of the plays now rather than a whole cast later, Norton said.

Instead, Pier One will try some alternative ways of doing live theater.

“This year we’ll focus on public domain material, stuff we can experiment with doing online or doing on the radio or just finding other outlets, maybe podcasts,” Norton said.

Another plan is to do radio plays through KBBI Public Radio, like an upcoming adaption of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“It’s kind of a fun challenge to host rehearsals,” Norton said. “I have my first Zoom rehearsal coming up this week.”

That has its own challenges, with KBBI restricting studio access to essential staff.

“We’re just working together with KBBI to figure out how to record appropriately, safely with good quality with these new mediums,” Norton said.

Pier One also will have to restructure its Youth Theatre workshops. In the annual workshops, students learn theater skills from acting to stagecraft to writing. This summer it will be done like so many other classes, through distance education. Norton is working on a curriculum that will include individual projects like memorizing a monologue of writing a play. They’ve also talked about a Zoom puppet theater.

“I don’t know,” Norton said. “There’s a lot of ideas we’re throwing around to figure out what that exactly looks like.”

They’re also looking into a podcast platform.

“I don’t know if anyone has a film bent, but it’s out there, ready for content when we’re ready to have things on there,” she said.

If the pandemic situation improves and the assembly rules relax later in the summer, Pier One could do theater in the park “where people potentially feel more comfortable gathering in a group and standing or sitting more socially distant from each other,” Norton said.

Pier One also could get back into the theater on the Homer Spit if things get better.

“We’re certainly hopeful we get to perform something in the Spit theater at some point in the near future,” Norton said. “We do want to respect the CDC guidelines on large groups gathering. We want to do what’s safe for the community.”

It might even be possible to do theater under some restrictions, Norton said.

“It’s actually an interesting directorial challenge,” she said. “I want to give it a go to see if we can stage something with three or four people on the stage and never come within 6 feet of one another.”

Like other arts organizations, postponing the 2020 season will have a financial effect on Pier One. A lot of its revenues come from summer ticket sales. Tickets also drive support through Pier One’s Raven’s Club, a membership option with benefits like ticket discounts.

“When people can see what you’re producing, that’s a big inducement to give to an organization, so we hope to find other ways to engage with the comm so they can see what work is still being done and we can still provide content even though we may not be able to be on the spit in our space,” Norton said.

People can support Pier One through its challenges by joining and rejoining Raven’s Club.

“We welcome that and encourage people to contribute,” Norton said. “… We hope to come back strong with our season next year. Getting through this year is essential to us continuing in the future.”

The program for summer 2021 is:

• “The Night Animals,” by Kate Rich

• “Pride and Prejudice,” by Kate Hamill adapted from Jane Austen

• “Dial M for Murder,” by Frederick Knott

• Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” adapted by Ken Ludwig

• “Always, Patsy Cline,” by Ted Swindley

• And coming in October 2021, Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.”

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.