Blue Water community theaters transform during pandemic

The pandemic has impacted so many throughout the last year and performing arts organizations have not been outside of its reach. 

While some theaters across St. Clair County have gone dark, biding their time before they are able to reopen, others such as the Richmond Community Theatre and Enter Stage Right have utilized the spare time to develop their skills or renovate their spaces while waiting for their cue to reopen. 

Enter Stage Right 

In 2007, Enter Stage Right (ESR) was created by co-founders Regina Spain and Elaine Schatzline-Behr. The theater put down roots in 2016, opening up at The Citadel Stage in downtown Port Huron. 

After the shutdown, artists within the theater started taking online workshops and doing streaming virtual productions as a way for them to stay active and continue engaging in the community. 

“At ESR I know we have people that, literally, this is a lifeline,” says Spain, Executive Director of ESR. “When we are open, this is where they come for their safe place. This is where they come to be brave, find family, relationships, and that creative outlet that helps them in whatever headspace they're in. And so knowing that and knowing that this was suddenly very severed from what we were, we just knew we needed to keep engagement going.”

The decision enabled the theater to make connections across the U.S. and allowed former affiliates of ESR who have relocated with a way to participate in the theater again. One of the workshop opportunities the artists took part in was an improv class that Spain says they had so much fun with they have decided to start the ESR Improv Lab. 

A group participates in an ESR Improv Lab with Enter Stage Right at The Citadel Stage on Sunday, March 21, 2021.
"Actual improv is so different than just thinking off the cuff and everything," says Spain. "There's a lot of technical work that actually goes into improv so we're going to start those [ESR Improv Labs] just to have fun, reconnect, and get our skills up to speed. Hopefully by the time we're able to have an audience we’ll feel great about doing some improv nights."  

Those that are interested in learning more about the ESR Improv Lab or how to participate can visit EnterStageRight.org or email ESRtheatre@gmail.com.

Reference materials for theater exercises lie on a staircase during Enter Stage Right's ESR Improv Lab at The Citadel Stage. Executive Director of ESR, Regina Spain, says that they are starting the improv classes in small gatherings as a way to reconnect and work on their improv skills.
Spain says that they are hoping to reopen by late July or early August. 

“The irony of reopening again with Shakespeare — that's what we opened our venue with and that's what we were known for years before we opened — would be not lost on us,” says Spain. “With the way vaccines are rolling out and everything, we are hoping that by the end of May or June, that everybody that wants and can get a vaccine is vaccinated fully and that we can kind of proceed with a little bit more of life as normal.” 

Richmond Community Theatre

The Richmond Community Theatre (RCT) has been a part of the Richmond community since 1965. After the pandemic hit, causing theaters to close their curtains, RCT decided to make a few updates to their location at the former First Congregational Church on Parker Street. 

“We've been talking a lot about when we’re going to reopen and how we’re going to reopen, like all the other community theaters. But we thought with this downtime, there were some things inside the theater that we wanted to accomplish and were planning on doing," says Sandy Luenser, Vice President of RCT. 

Luenser says they have been busy installing new carpeting in the theater’s auditorium, painting, renovating two restrooms, redoing a staircase, and redesigning the costume rooms and the makeup area. 

“We're redoing all that, upgrading a lot of things, and a lot of this is volunteer work,” says Luenser. “We want to make sure that when the audience does come back, we're giving them the best theater that we can.”

While the costume rooms at the Richmond Community Theatre undergo a renovation, costumes are draped over chairs on the stage for safekeeping.
Luenser says they hope to reopen in September with their postponed production Clue the Musical, which was set to open on March 13, 2020. 

“It was really sad to see everybody working so hard and it was such a great production,” says Luenser. “Everything was just closed and there was nothing we could do about it, and so we are looking forward to opening and having the theater like all new and exciting for the patrons.”
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