Best Bets: Clear Space Theatre Company makes most of unclear picture

From left, Craig Terrell, Christopher Decker, Savannah Nagy and Gavin Conner were members of Clear Space Theater Company’s production of “Kiss Me Kate” when the Rehoboth Beach venue had to close in mid-March during the start of the coronavirus crisis.

On the website for the Clear Space Theatre Company, it says “the term “clear space” refers to a focus on the process, knowledge and humanity of arts performance: the idea that we find ourselves in what appears on the stage.”

Since the coronavirus crisis forced Delaware to basically shut down in mid-March, there hasn’t been anything or anyone to be found on the Rehoboth Beach stage. The classic musical comedy “Kiss Me Kate” had to be canceled in the middle of its run and the next show on the schedule “Urinetown” never really got off the ground.

Now, the theatre company, which was founded in 2004, is weighing its options for the annual summer of revolving shows that was supposed to start June 23.

Clear Space is facing the same dilemma as many of the state’s small businesses — when to open and how to do it safely.

In the meantime, Southern Delaware’s only professional theater company has still been busy, developing innovative ways to keep the arts alive in the area while still continuing to generate revenue.

“The good thing about our office is that there are only five full-time employees. So, we’re all still working on doing different things, different ways of doing our jobs, sort of thinking up new ideas about how we can maintain a sort of an awareness,” said Clear Space artistic director David Button.

“Even though we don’t want to bombard people, we do want to let them know that we’re still around because we don’t want people to forget that this is something that can sort of alleviate stress during this time. We want to give at least some entertainment to let us not think about the bad stuff going on in the world all the time.”

That effort started as things were shutting down in March with staff members and actors reading bedtime stories for kids and adults on Clear Space’s Facebook Live page.

“While all of that was happening, we just started putting our heads together and saying what can we do? And that’s how bedtime stories came about. We thought OK, we do a lot of arts education at Clear Space in addition to putting on shows,” Mr. Button said.

“So we thought, ‘You know what? Let’s read some stories to our kids.’ And then that evolved into let’s do some late night stories for adults, and then, we started including our Arts Institute children doing some of them.”

The next effort in staying out in front of theatergoers was something they called “Window Karaoke.” It was a series of Facebook videos with Clear Space actors performing musical numbers while staying socially responsible.

“Autumn (Schneider), who played Donna in ‘Mamma Mia’ this past summer, and I have been friends for years. … One day I just happened to be driving up to her window knowing I had to social distance. I just wanted to say hi and see how she was doing. We’re both talking about how much we miss going to the theater, how much we miss performing. And then we were jokingly saying we should just sing though the window. We can sing right now and I was just like, why can’t we,” Mr. Button

Clear Space’s David Button and Autumn Schneider perform a number during a Window Karaoke episode. A special Window Cocktail Karaoke Party is available for purchase on Clear Space’s website.

“Then a third member, Christopher Decker, was staying locally because he couldn’t leave at that point because he’s already here. And I sort of pulled him in and the three of us, while social distancing, found a way to have fun singing and doing some acts.”

That led to three videos on Facebook and then to Clear Space’s biggest project during the shutdown period — a fundraising video called “Window Karaoke Cocktail Party.”

Hosted by Mr. Button and Ms. Schneider, the video features several at-home performances by popular Clear Space actors like Emma Pittman, Kolten Bell, The Family Jewells and Melanie Bradley, as well as popular Clear Space personalities Erin and Darren Bobby, Mackenzie Jones and Jacob Waldron and Alan Krisfalusi, showcasing their cocktail recipes in this extended version.

For $25, a link will be emailed. The revenue goes directly to the Clear Space Theatre COVID-19 relief fund. Additional donations made to Clear Space Theatre’s COVID-19 Relief Fund will be matched, up to $2.500, for a donation to Beebe Healthcare COVID-19 Relief. Matching donations are made possible by Broadpoint Construction.

The video will be available until May 30 by visiting clearspacetheatre.org.

“We actually got everybody to send in the videos and we stitched them together, and we send a link out when you buy a ticket and you can watch it on your own time. It’s about a two-hour video of supporting the arts by showing exactly what we do,” Mr. Button said.

Another venture just launched last week are Singing Videograms.

Folks can go on the Clear Space website, see various of photos of Clear Space players and see songs that are available from each one. Participants can then purchase what song they would like that person to sing along with a personalized message.

“So let’s say I just had someone buy ‘Quarter of the Sky,’ from my headshot page, and they send it to somebody. So they can write a special message, and then we get on and say ‘Hey I’m David from Clear Space and I’m excited to talk to you during this time.’ So and so wants to wish you a happy 70th birthday or they want to tell you they’re thinking about you at this time, or happy anniversary, and I’m gonna sing you a song,” Mr. Button said.

Mr. Button, who has been artistic director of Clear Space for five years but has worked with the company since 2006, said the efforts serve a dual purpose.

“We’re actually coming up with new ideas every day. How do we do the next special event? So we’re working on details about that now so that again during this time, we have a way to still maintain some semblance of financial stability while bringing the arts to the community,” he said.

While performing virtually is nice, getting back on the stage is the ultimate goal.

Starting in June, the plan is to stage three revolving musicals “La Cage Aux Folles,” “Cabaret” and “Sister Act.”

“So, looking forward, it’s a little bit devastating that I’m preparing for these three shows that we do in the summer, not knowing if we’re even going to be able to show them at any point or if we’re gonna be able to show them at least to a minimal audience or what any of that looks like,” he said.

“We’re following the guidelines strictly because we want to keep our audiences safe we want to keep ourselves safe, of course. So we’re sort of in this place of waiting. And it’s like, get it done, get it done, get it done but wait and see.”

The state of Delaware has announced a partial reopening of the state effective June 1.

Wesley Paulson, executive director of Clear Space, said he does see an audience that is eager to return to the theater once performances come back to the stage.

“I’m encouraged because we did an audience survey. And one question was ‘Are you missing the opportunity to attend events?’ and I’d say 75% of them said yes,” he said.

“Looking ahead, the spread is pretty even between people who are highly likely to come back and some are very likely, likely, somewhat likely and not likely. That’s a little bit more of a concern I guess. Of the highly likely, are there enough of them who would come and buy tickets to make it worth putting on a show?

“We asked the question a different way. Like 20% of the folks said they would come back immediately. And another 30% said within a month. So that’s 50% of our audience who would tend to come back, and then 25% have said a year or after there is a vaccine. So on that side of it that’s encouraging. And I guess the question is how do we create a space that makes everybody feel safe between the no maskers, and the people who want to have masks, and that kind of thing. So how does that all work?”

And then there is the concern among the actors on stage.

“That’s the whole comfort level is how comfortable the actors are with each other on stage. And then is the audience comfortable with what we’ve done? That generates the energy in the house. So if you’ve got the actors on edge or the audience’s on edge, you’re gonna throw the whole chemistry off for an evening,” said Mr. Paulson.

“We’ve got actors coming in this summer, mostly college juniors and seniors. All of them are ready. They’re excited to come in and work, and several have been here before. So it’s up to the director. Then how do you get this thing staged and leave everybody feeling comfortable?”

With the state’s phased reopening, Mr. Paulson said that would leave about 30 percent occupancy available in late June, meaning about 60 people in the audience.

“We provide obviously an entertainment function but then there’s also the fact of a sense of community of people coming together to enjoy the show and I think people are longing for that. So I think to the extent we cannot do financial harm to ourselves, we’d like to be part of bringing people back together,” Mr. Paulson said.

He sees the whole situation as rather disappointing.

“You know it’s a shame that the very thing that we need, which theater provides in one sense, is entertainment and the distraction, in addition to sometimes being thought -provoking. It’s frustrating that we’re unable to do it. At this point, I come into the office and, more recently, a couple of us have been coming in one or two days a week and the building’s empty and there’s no energy in a place that’s usually just full of energy and excitement. The staff is still being creative and people are calling but it’s still kind of sad,” he said.

One bright spot are plans for a new theatre building at 415 Rehoboth Ave. An update on those activities are set for Tuesday.

Milton soft reopening

While Clear Space is still grappling with its reopening, the Milton Theater is planning a “soft reopening” in two weeks.

For those who are willing to venture out, a press release this week said “the venue assures that you will be entering an environment where your health and safety are of utmost importance.”

Local comedian Keith Purnell will perform with Jeremy Hall and Missy Hall June 5 at the Milton Theatre.

Ticket availability is limited for social distancing measures for the following shows:

•Screenings of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” June 3 and 4, respectively, at 3 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $8-$10.

•Standup comedy by Keith Purnell, Missy Hall and Jeremy Hall on June 5 at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $11-$13.

•A drag show featuring Magnolia Applebottom June 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20.

For more information, visit MiltonTheatre.org or call 302-684-3038.

Serafins reschedule

The Serafin Ensemble has postponed its classical music festival, Serafin Summer Music, to the summer of 2021. The festival was created in 2019, in partnership with the University of Delaware Department of Music and The Music School of Delaware. In its first year, the festival presented eight concerts featuring 18 internationally acclaimed artists drawing large audiences of classical music aficionados.

The Serafins will present a concert on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 5 p.m. featuring three brother-sister duos on violin and piano. The high-spirited performance features sibling artists Julie and David Coucheron, piano and violin; Helen and Michael Kim, violin and piano; and Kate and William Ransom, violin and piano.

The program features works by Brahms, de Falla, Bizet, Rachmaninoff, W.F. Bach, Hermann and Moszkowski.

The concert will be held at The Music School of Delaware – Wilmington Concert Hall, 4101 Washington St., Wilmington. Tickets are $20, including both the live concert and a virtual performance on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. Online ticket sales begin on July 15 at www.musicschoolofdelaware.org.

The Serafins’ June 25 concert at The Milton Theatre has been rescheduled to Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

For the latest updates on concert dates and Serafin Summer Music Festival, visit www.serafinensemble.org.

Now showing

New on DVD and download starting Tuesday is the remake of “The Invisible Man.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 1 guidance

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