SLOC Announces a Reimagined Season

It’s been just over a year since the Schenectady Light Opera Company stage promised “Something familiar, Something peculiar, Something for everyone: A Comedy Tonight!” Of course, those are the opening lyrics of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” which closed before it opened on March 12, 2020.

Since that time, the set for the show has remained on the Franklin Street theater stage waiting. Waiting like the rest of us for the end of the pandemic, for the return of theater, for a time when we can safely gather and waiting, perhaps most importantly, for how to proceed with the information on hand. Unfortunately for the “Forum” cast and crew SLOC has made a decision on how to proceed into the future but it is without that show for now.

Schenectady Light Opera Company
Photo by Carlton Media Productions

Schenectady Light Opera Company has announced that they are not producing the last two shows in their 2020 season nor any of their announced 2020/21 season but replacing it with “Ordinary Days” by Adam Gwon in the Fall, “Songs for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown next Winter and “Violet” by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley in the Spring of 2021.

To understand what went on behind that decision, I spoke by phone with the lovely Elizabeth Sherwood-Mack who I’ve enjoyed onstage numerous times, especially in “In the Heights.” She is the co-chair of the selection committee which presents a slate of musicals to the board for approval. She started “We, for a while, were holding on to the idea that ‘Forum’ was the show that we wanted to come back with so we did not take down the set. It’s a great show. We had a cast that was prepared. It was a show that we had already paid for so…Yes, that was our hope to do that.”

Elizabeth Sherwood-Mack

Sherwood-Mack continued, “The more and more as the pandemic went on and on and we waited and waited…we realized that our initial hopes were probably not going to be achievable in the immediate future so we decided to make a little bit of a pivot and choose smaller shows, shows that we could produce with a smaller cast and a smaller pit as well We thought we had a better chance to be more successful with the restrictions that are coming down the pike.”

“We thought smaller shows would be much easier to open with as far as safety, as far as abiding by guidelines. Also, we were looking at shows that would be available for virtual streaming and we knew that if we tried to open with ‘Forum’ specifically or rehearse ‘Bright Star,’ those were shows with casts of 20-plus people, plus crew and pits and being able to safely rehearse and safely execute was going to be more of a challenge than we thought was going to be feasible given the restrictions and guidelines we were anticipating. Our main issue was that we could reopen safely and comfortable for actors, staff, performers, everyone.”

As far as the audience’s safety and comfort, the guidelines are changing on a weekly basis. “We’re looking at what specific capacity we can operate at and Jeffrey Hocking (Box Office Manager) has those specific numbers. We are looking at creative seating as far as seating parties together and there was just a recent guideline that you can be three feet away from other people if you are both masked. We wanted to get ahead of the game, have a plan in place for when things were trending to reopen, to have something available for our patrons.”

Cast of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”
Photo by Carlton Media Productions

I asked about these specific shows and what appealed about them. “We thought about cast size. We also thought about some of the messages within these pieces. Each of these shows has a clear message of overcoming an obstacle or a character facing adversity and learning and growing from that experience and I think that’s pretty on par with what we have grown through as a community.” There is also the added opportunity of enhancing their diversity initiative and casting new shows more inclusively than perhaps they have been.

To emphasize, Elizabeth concluded “Even with all that is going on, we were still finding a way to tell a story.” A story that we are all invested in. How do we come out of this cataclysm of a year and say to the world “I’ll be here.” That just so happens to be the title of the big song from the season opener “Ordinary Days.” In the song, the character Claire has a vision of her dead husband who gives her permission to stop grieving with the line, “Hey, you’re allowed to move on. It’s okay.”

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