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Roanoke Theatre Company returns with Gradual Roll-out

Jeff Bossert/Radio IQ

As the country works to slowly return to normal, a Roanoke Theater company has carefully researched how to safely entertain before an audience again.

After a year of virtual shows and classes, the May 8 opening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks Mill Mountain Theatre’s first in-person performance since 2019.

The ‘stage’ area for this Shakespeare show is the front lawn of Heights Community Church in Roanoke's Grandin Village.

The play’s director, Victoria Buck, said using this space - a matter of feet from busy neighborhood streets, brought its share of challenges.

“We realized we we’re going to need to put the sound system into use,” Buck said. “And so we were talking about mics, and having to look at rentals, because we didn’t have enough.  Then we realized because they have to put masks on backstage to be safe when they’re not on stage, we were going to have a lot of noise interference if their mics were on their cheeks because the masks were going to be going on and off.” 

And so we decided we have to put them in their hairline, which, of course, means – you can’t touch your face, you can’t touch your face, you can’t gesture near your head, because we get that excess noise.”

Assistant Artistic Director Payton Moledor says Mill Mountain Theatre’s COVID-19 compliance officers put in their share of work. While seven members of “Midsummer’s” cast are vaccinated, and MMT’s full staff has been, actors who haven’t will get tested before performances.

Credit (Jeff Bossert/Radio IQ)
Members of the cast of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" wait 'backstage' - just off Grandin Ave - during rehearsal April 28.

“And that coupled with distancing everyone, masking off stage, making sure they’re 6 feet apart, really is a good trial run for what we’re doing for when we come back into the real theater in mid-June,” she said.

Capacity for the audience for ‘Midsummer’, around 60 people, will be set in their lawn chairs, with groups six feet apart.

There are twelve cast members, with some doubling up roles, as another way of keeping safe. The theater company’s next show, the family production Tomas and the Library Lady, will performed outdoors throughout the Roanoke Valley.

Jeff Bossert talks with Producing Artistic Director Ginger Poole about the theater company's slow roll-out to the 2021 season.

Mill Mountain Theatre’s 2021 season will move indoors late this summer, including a production of Legally Blonde, opening in late September. 

But Producing Artistic Director Ginger Poole says even then, some actors will have multiple parts as a way of keeping things safe.

“Which means all expect for the lead character, Elle Woods, they will either double or triple their roles,” she said. “So for an ensemble member in the show, it’s going to be a blast. And I think for the audience it’s going to be a lot of fun to see who makes their entrance, and they’re another person.”

Opening night for ‘Midsummer’ is May 8, with no reservations needed for this pay-what-you-can show.