Michael Tobin holds disinfecting supplies while posing for a photo at The Footlights Theatre in Falmouth on Wednesday. Tobin is planning to reopen the theater in early July. He has spaced the audience chairs apart, developed protocols for how people will enter and leave the theater, and will put plexiglass in front of the set where the actors will perform. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

At a time when many theater producers are wondering if fall will be too soon to resume staging plays, Michael Tobin, owner and founder of The Footlights Theatre in Falmouth, plans to reopen in the first week of July.

The experience will be fraught with trepidation and uncertainty, although Tobin is certain of least one thing: He will be subject to social media shaming for his decision to reopen so soon.

“I’m very happy with the news, but it’s also very stressful. There are two sides to the coin, and I am trying to play both sides. I, like everyone, want this virus to go away and I want things to return to normal. But in the meantime, I am doing everything I can to make the theater safe and healthy for a great experience,” Tobin said. “When this becomes announced, people are going to have some strong opinions about it, but I am going so far beyond what (the state) is requiring to make this work, and at a cost.”

Footlights and the Lakewood Theater Madison appear to be the only theaters in Maine with any summer schedule, with Lakewood tentatively planning to open the comedy “Opening Night” on Aug. 6. Other theaters in Maine canceled their seasons entirely and are looking hopefully toward fall, while the major national actors union, Actors’ Equity Association, is urging its members not to work at any theater that has announced reopening plans yet.

After conferring with the state, Tobin decided to go ahead with his plan. He is installing plastic glass near the front of the stage to separate the actors from the audience and limiting the audience to 25 people – one-third of a sold-out house. The first row will be at least six feet from the stage. He has purchased two air purification systems and will require all patrons to wear masks unless they have a medical reason not to. For those people, he will set aside seats that also are separated by plastic glass and require them to wear masks while walking about the theater.

His bathrooms will be equipped with disposable toilet seat covers, and people who need to use the restrooms will be given individual toilet paper packages, he said. All beverages will be bottled, and people will be expected to bring their empty bottles home with them. He also will collect contact information from all theater-goers for the purpose of contact tracing later if necessary. He has contracted with a cleaning service for a deep clean once a week and will do the cleaning himself between performances.

Footlights plans to stage one show this summer, a two-person comedy called “Cupid’s Arrow.” It will last about 80 minutes without an intermission. It opens July 7 and will run through Sept. 3 with one performance nightly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tickets will cost $20. As part of its summer tradition, Footlights does not schedule weekend performances. Tobin is one of two actors who will perform in the play – he is recruiting his cast mate – and the script, which he wrote, never brings both actors within 6 feet of each other, he said. The actors will have separate dressing rooms, he added.

Michael Tobin, photographed outside The Footlights Theater in Falmouth on Wednesday, doesn’t expect to make money from his two-person comedy, “Cupid’s Arrow.” He mostly wants the theater to survive. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

He doesn’t expect to make money at $20 a ticket. He mostly wants to survive. He has paid rent since the shutdown based on donations from patrons, and otherwise would have closed the theater for good, he said.

Meanwhile, Portland Stage is planning for its next season but is not committing to when that season will start or how it will play out.

The theater livestreamed a season-announcement event on Saturday night, hosted by the theater’s executive and artistic director, Anita Stewart, along with a supporting cast of theater stars from Maine and elsewhere, including Broadway star and playwright John Cariani; actor, singer and Maine native Scott Moreau; Curt Dale Clark of Maine State Music Theatre; Keith Powell Beyland and Vanessa Beyland of Dramatic Repertory Company; and Maine-based director and actress Sally Wood.

Playwrights Callie Kimball and Willy Holtzman, whose plays are part of the 2020-21 season, also participated in the livestream event.

Historically, the Portland Stage season runs September to May, and in recent years has hosted a summer co-production with Maine State Music Theatre. Portland Stage announced the plays it intends to produce in the 2020-’21 theater season, but didn’t affix dates to those shows. That’s because there is too much in flux, and the theater will want the flexibility to adjust as conditions change based on the virus, Stewart said.

The season announcement, she added, represents “forward movement. We’re excited about the season and we feel confident we will bring all of its pieces to the people. It may not be in the time frame that we’re used to, but it’s work we are excited about and it’s going to be good for our community.”

Stewart credited the federal Paycheck Protection Program for allowing the theater to retain its staff so it could plan for another season during the shutdown. This week, box office personnel began calling subscribers to survey them about their comfort level in returning to the theater in the fall or whenever Portland Stage can begin presenting live theater again, Stewart said.

Portland Stage on Forest Avenue has announced the shows it plans to put on next year, but no dates or timeframe for opening. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When that happens, the Portland Stage season will have a distinct American flair. Kimball’s new play, “Perseverance,” will be a world premiere about women’s suffrage, and is based in the fictional Maine town of Hillcroft. “Sabina,” a new musical by Holtzman that was canceled because of the pandemic, offers another look at women’s suffrage through the perspective of a female doctor whose work was overshadowed by men.

Another premiere is “Senior Living,” by playwrights Tor Hyams and Lisa St. Lou, about a retirement community in New York where seniors use the occasion of a talent show to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. Also on the docket is the Arthur Miller classic “The Crucible,” about the dangers of mass hysteria and false accusations, which will be a co-production with Dramatic Repertory Company.

“The Cake” explores same-sex marriage in a comedic manner, and Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic comedy, is a beautiful one-act play about falling in love.

In summer 2021, Portland Stage expects to work again with Maine State Music Theatre to co-produce “Ring of Fire,” which was slated for this summer and has been postponed. Moreau has perfected the Cash role on national tours. In theory, the Christmas show this year will be “A Christmas Carol.”

Stewart said it would be important for the theater to remain flexible and adaptable. She plans to work with different budgets for different scenarios, based on the virus and its toll. That could mean developing more virtual content, like this week’s adaptation of its annual new works festival, the Little Festival of the Unexpected, to an online-only format. This year’s festival will include digital readings and discussions of Kimball’s “Perseverance,” at 7 p.m. Friday; “Marianas Trench” by Scott C. Sickles on June 5; and “What Comes Next” by Jonathan Spector on June 11.

“We will be working in a lot of different ways to meet the challenges, whatever they are,” Stewart said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: