As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, Theatre companies around the country have had to cancel shows. There’s an exception, though, at Williamston Theatre, the Lansing area’s only professional company. They’ve arranged to offer “These Mortal Hosts” to paying customers online.
WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks with the theatre’s executive director, John Lepard, about how it works.
SCOTT POHL: I wanted to begin by asking you where you were with the production of “These Mortal Hosts” when you figured out that you needed to cancel live performances. Were you deep into rehearsals, were you into dress rehearsals, where were you on this production?
JOHN LEPARD: We were about a week and a half into rehearsals, and we were coming up on tech day. Luckily, it's a great cast. Everybody was pretty much off book about a week into rehearsal, so they were really ready, really prepared. We got to just about a week before the tech day, which is the big day when we put all of the elements together, the light, the sound, the projections, the whole shot, and we got the news that everything was shutting down. We had to very quickly get a new contract with Actors Equity Association, which is the union for stage actors. We have a normal contract that we have because of our size of theatre and the amount of shows we do, and we renegotiate that every year, but when the Coronavirus hit quickly, thankfully, Equity decided to allow, for the first time, theaters to film their product and to send it out to people over the internet.
POHL: You had to get permission from the publishing company and the playwright too, didn't you?
LEPARD: Yes, we did. Eric Coble is the playwright, and he immediately said "sure," and so did his representation, so we were very grateful for that. We had a lot of hoops to jump through. We finally got our contract from Actors Equity Association, and we're able to get that off and sign it and take care of all that business before we started recording.
POHL: Do you have any sense of what kind of revenue you might be able to recoup by being able to offer it online to your patrons who are paying to see it?
LEPARD: Well, we'll see how it sells. I know that there are a lot of people who are interested in seeing it. We are giving it four price points; it's all the same product, but we are allowing our patrons to either get it at a discount or pay the normal price that they would pay. Either way, we hope to recoup a lot of our ticket sales this way, and we'll see how it goes.
ABOUT “THESE MORTAL HOSTS”
While the characters in this play are separate from each other, they don't know each other at the beginning, and as these mysteries happen in the community and within themselves, they slowly come together and find each other, and realize that they are all in this supernatural event together. John Lepard, Williamston Theatre Executive Director.
POHL: I had a question about what it will look like to people who pay for it to watch it online. Will it look like a TV production, or just one camera pointing at a stage?
LEPARD: We recorded it twice, and had three different angles for each of the times we recorded it. Andy Kirschner, who is the film artist who helped us out, did some pickups from other spots where we didn't really catch some things. So, you will be seeing it edited as if it were a film, but of course, it's in our theater. It sounds really good; and he's a great filmmaker.