Summer is a notoriously slow time for live theater, but this year it was almost nonexistent. But fall is upon us and local performers are finding their way back to stages in ways both conventional and creative. Community theaters, often staffed largely by volunteers, are eager to get their seasons underway – including the state’s oldest, continuously operating community theater, St. Petersburg City Theatre.
Founded in 1925 and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1937, SPCT has gone by different names in its nearly 95-year history, including St. Petersburg Little Theatre, but its mission has remained the same: to promote and create local theater dedicated to teaching and training non-professional artists of any age. From its home since the 1950s at 4025 31st St. S., SPCT puts up multiple mainstage productions each year in addition to hosting adult education workshops and youth theater programs.
SPCT had its 2020-2021 season set when the pandemic hit, and while it had to rethink the production a bit, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” opened a three-night run on October 9 to a live, in-house audience. Producers intended to stage a traditional performance, but after COVID-19, the creative team at SPCT had to think on their feet.
“We decided to switch to a combination stage/radio play to keep the actors distanced on stage and limit interaction backstage,” explains City Theatre’s Kevin Crowell. “So, the setting on stage will be the inside of a 1930s radio station. It will have the look and feel of a live radio broadcast, complete with a foley sound effects table.”
The script, adapted and directed by David Middleton, is a natural fit to radio drama: Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson were fixtures on the radio throughout the 1930s and 40s. The SPCT performance was broadcast live on internet radio station qstarfm.com during its Sunday matinee with a rebroadcast later that night.
Crowell noted that during the performance actors wore face coverings on stage when they weren’t saying lines, and the limited number of patrons attending live were also required to wear masks. Attendees also had their temperatures taken upon entering.
With safety measure and precautions in place, SPCT’s season is moving forward.
“Our current plans for the rest of the season are to proceed with the shows that were decided upon before the pandemic,” Crowell says, adding that SPCT will be putting up “A Christmas Carol” in December just as it has for the last few years, as well as the jukebox musical “All Shook Up” in February and the Neil Simon classic “Barefoot in the Park” this spring.
For more on SPCT’s programs and upcoming shows, visit spcitytheatre.org.