After a year-long shutdown due to COVID-19, the Village Theatre KIDSTAGE put on its first two live musical productions this July and August at their Issaquah location. The two shows are part of the KIDSTAGE Summer Independent program, in which productions are both performed and produced entirely by students with some mentor input and guidance.
A year prior to the 2021 season, students who had graduated high school pitched ideas for the next year’s production along with the student-run team that would be directing these productions. Out of the pitches, two productions — The Spitfire Grill and Urinetown — were chosen.
The Spitfire Grill is the story of a new girl in town, Percy, who works at the town’s only eatery when the owners decide to sell it through a contest.
The second musical, Urinetown, is a comedy about a small town hero during that town’s struggle with newly imposed government restrictions on toilets while the town suffers an extreme drought, and the battle against a company that controls the water supply and can provide relief.
Younger students between the ages of 14 and 20 had the chance to participate in the two productions through the Village Theatre’s Technical Theatre Program along with actors of the same age.
As King County began the process of fully reopening, the COVID-19 delta variant began to spread, especially during the Urinetown shows which ran from July 30 to August 8.
The Village Theatre managed to produce and perform both shows without a single COVID-19 case amongst its cast or crew. They did so by strictly following COVID safety precautions for its audience, actors and production crew.
During the rehearsal process, Marisol González, the director of Urinetown, said the cast and crew were “very diligent” and “everyone was very compliant” with respect to mask wearing. They had to be extremely careful because if even one case arose, the entire show would be shut down.
In addition, everyone on the team was vaccinated, even though it was not required.
During tech week — the week before the performances where technical elements such as lighting, costumes, mics, sound, and sets are implemented — as well as during the performances, Gonzalez said they had a rule that performers were only allowed to be maskless on stage. The moment they walked off-stage, they had to put their mask back on. The backstage production crew wore masks at all times.
In addition, the audience was required to wear masks at all times. Seats between audience members and groups were kept empty to enforce social distancing.
Gonzalez recounted a few lighthearted mask mishaps in which the actors accidentally entered the stage with a mask on their face during the performance.
“They really played into it, and made it really funny while taking off their mask on stage in front of a live audience,” she said.
Gonzalez described the feeling of being back at the theatre after so long as “surreal,” especially with Urinetown being her directorial debut, as it was “absolutely shocking, to go from nothing to everything all at once.”
The cast and crew participated in many bonding and vulnerability activities, which helped them become closer. Gonzalez said she “almost felt undeserving of how powerful our team was, how committed we were to making it such a safe space.”
Maisy Wagner, 18, who performed in Urinetown and played the character of Dr. Billaux, said the experience exceeded her expectations.
“The general mood of the room, everyone was a lot more tense, excited because we are all so excited to be back in the theatre,” Wagner said. “And we really missed it. But also, that feeling of whoa… this is really strange. We haven’t done this in a really long time.”
Wagner said the cast and crew bonded exceptionally well in the month-and-a-half they worked together.
“I think the pandemic made it easier because we all were so appreciative of being around each other,” she said.
The show was performed at a different location than previous years. Usually, the Summer Independent production is performed on the First Stage Theatre, a smaller stage down the street from the mainstage at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre on Front Street. This year, both shows were actually performed on the mainstage.
Because the Summer Independent Productions went smoothly, the Village Theatre is planning to put on a full “Welcome Back” season at both their Issaquah and Everett locations beginning in January 2022.
The Village Theatre website now has their 2022 show lineup.