The show must go on for Centerstage Theatre.
Federal Way’s performing arts and theatre group is gearing up for the premiere of their very first production of the season — a customary tradition with a new set of complexities amid the pandemic.
“This first show is pretty different,” said Trista Duval, artistic director of Centerstage Theatre.
Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need) airs on a screen near you Sunday, Oct. 25. The seven-person cast of familiar Federal Way faces perform a collection of scenes about human experiences, Duval said.
Some scenes are lighthearted and silly, others cast a heavier feeling and touch on the grief of loss. Some reflect the pedantic moments of life, but all of the scenes have a hint of magic, a supernatural feel, or just a weird, out-of-the-ordinary happening, Duval said.
“I wanted to pull that in as the central theme because I think we need things that are a little removed from reality right now,” she said.
Most of the production rehearsals took place over Zoom, and when the time came for in-person performing, the group took all the health precautions possible including masks, physically spacing the actors, and between scenes, throwing open the doors while blasting fans to get clean air moving through the sets.
The pandemic also brought on new territory of the rights and legalities to live streaming or digitally distributing plays. A standard production license comes with the rights to do live, ticketed performances, Duval said, but not every play has rights to be filmed and distributed.
But, it’s not the licensing company’s place to stream or not to stream — it’s the playwright’s decision.
“When a playwright is still alive, it’s a lot easier,” Duval said, only half-joking. In creating “Theatre Magic,” Duval contacted several artists to ask permission to use their script for a recorded performance.
“The tough part is now you need to find cohesion between all these scenes and make it a unit. The fun part is reaching out to these artists who are working on getting established.”
The production was professionally recorded over the course of the weekend. Once tickets are purchased, viewers can tune in on Sunday at their designated time to view the show. For the season’s future productions, Duval said they hope to move into live streaming their performances.
Because of the tumultuous nature of COVID-19 infection rates, the decision of how the company was going to show the first production changed about six times throughout the last five weeks, she said.
On top of creating quality theatre, Duval had to secure rights to distribute, and make sure all the health measures were being followed to protect the health of everyone involved.
“Once you check all three of those boxes, you’re not left with a lot to work with,” she said. “I probably read around 100 scripts to find what we needed to work with.”
While Federal Way’s Knutzen Family Theatre is still very much their home stage, Centerstage had a change of scenery for their first show, Duval said, performing and recording the play at Dukesbay Productions in Tacoma.
It’s no secret live theatre and performing arts have been hit hard by the events of 2020, but Centerstage officials are prioritizing the health of staff, actors and audiences.
“We have no interest in pushing anything forward beyond what’s deemed safe,” she said. “We want and need everyone to be safe so we’re taking it incredibly seriously. At the same time, we employ people.”
Centerstage employs about 100 contractors a year, and while they’re not yet in a position for employees to quit their day jobs for the theatre group, many people rely on their theatre earnings to pay bills.
“We also feel like we have a responsibility to the contractors because artists are out of work right now and it’s not pretty out there,” Duval said. By picking up gigs through partner companies needing performers or voice-over artists and continuing to find ways to perform, Centerstage is able to help mitigate unemployment however it can.
Centerstage’s upcoming shows, which will be more traditionally structured performances, include A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol (Nov. 27-Dec. 20), The Importance of Being Earnest (Jan. 29-Feb. 21), Within the Law (March 26- April 18), and Puss In Boots: A Panto (May 21-June 13).
“I’ve always got plans ‘A, B, C, and D’ in my head because we don’t know where this pandemic is headed,” Duval said. While Centerstage is curating materials to live stream for the remainder of the season, there is hope that, at some point, in-person audiences will return.
A renewal of confidence came in the form of community support at Centerstage’s most successful fundraiser ever back in June, which raised more than $35,000. To the theatre group, it was a sign from their Federal Way showgoers to continue raising the curtain.
“We’re going to produce theatre,” Duval said. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s going to happen.”
For tickets and more information, visit centerstagetheatre.com.