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E-Block special report

How local community theatre survives during the age of COVID-19.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The Muskegon Civic Theatre is the only community theatre in Muskegon County. The troupe was busy rehearsing their big spring musical last March when the lockdown went into effect because of COVID-19. That's when everything stopped.

“What the heck do we do now?” said Managing Director Jason Bertoia’s. “Performing arts and live theatre is what our organization does ... Large groups of people? That’s what we do!”

After he and Artistic Director Kirk Wahamaki, the only two full time employees of the organization, were furloughed for several months it was time to strategize.

“The lightbulb was going off,” Wahamaki said, adding. “How do we keep our actors, volunteers, and audience engaged?”

They borrowed a page from the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre playbook by taking the performers to the people. Specifically, their backyards. Fire Pit Follies was born, a comedy performed on Zoom followed, and then another concept: Drive-In theatre.

“We put on a stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show!” said Bertoia. “We borrowed a stage, set it up in a parking lot and people would watch and enjoy from their parked cars. We used the same technology that many churches are using for their drive in services.”

It was so successful they plan on producing “Sister Act” the same way this spring.

Both agree the message is the same. Do whatever it takes, because the show must go on.

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