Photo by Manos Gkikas on Unsplash
Covid-19 has hit the theater industry hard, and the founders of local Gamut Theater, Harrisburg, PA, are using creative measures to still perform shows and offer classes during the pandemic.
Melissa Nicholson, co-founder and executive director of Gamut, said their live shows are open at 25 percent capacity, or fifty attendees per show, following safety protocols. They offer virtual experiences via Zoom, including a monthly live improv and ‘Once Upon Online’ pre-recorded shows. The company is also holding Gamut Theatre Academy with virtual classes, and schools can buy Gamut’s virtual Shakespeare packet.
“When we choose to do something virtually, we try to make sure there’s an interactive component to it,” Nicholson said. In Popcorn Hat Players ‘Once Upon Online’ the actors have live conversations with their virtual audience before and after the recording.
In the past, Gamut’s production of an annual ninety-minute Shakespeare play was one of their most profitable shows. Nicholson said, “We tour it to high schools and colleges, and we have a lot of high school students that come to see it at Gamut.” This year, they revamped the production into a virtual experience, ‘Julius Caesar Goes Digital’. It includes recorded show episodes, a study guide, and other materials.
She said it has been difficult to contact teachers about the packet. “Teachers are so overwhelmed right now, they just don’t have time to even think about an extra thing,” Nicholson said, adding, “It’s really hard to get in touch with the teachers and let them know.”
Gamut is not currently holding open auditions for the community. Their core cohort of actors can safely perform with one another. “We have company housing, so our actors live in company housing together…they went into quarantine together, so they were their own bubble,” Nicholson said. They also brought on local performers who are related to one another. Community members can safely volunteer as ushers and will receive a free show ticket.
Gamut Theatre began as the Popcorn Hat Players Children’s Theatre and now includes the Harrisburg Shakespeare Company. Nicholson and her husband have continued to lead the company they founded in 1991. It is located at 15 N. Fourth St. in Harrisburg, PA, in an old renovated church.