People’s Light is a place of gathering and storytelling, yet how do we gather during an unyielding pandemic? There is so much we don’t know about what the future may hold, and so much out of our control. But theatremakers are trained to envision and create worlds that are not yet possible. In that spirit, we want to share our plans for a reimagined 2020/2021 Season, but also wish to be candid about what informs these aspirations and the factors that might lead to further shifts in programming.
Based on the current status of COVID-19, local and state guidelines, and the requirements of the unions who represent the artists we employ, we cannot proceed with our 2020/2021 Season as originally conceived. Instead, we will present a series of filmed productions and events throughout Fall and Winter 2020 with hopes of returning to live theatre in March 2021.
If you have a subscription to our 2020/2021 Season, you do not need to take any action now. We just ask that you please read on and be sure to visit our list of 2020/2021 Season FAQs for details.
We will postpone the world premieres of Mushroom by New Play Frontiers writer Eisa Davis and Producing Director Zak Berkman’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol until the 2021/2022 Season. We will also shift our production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun until Winter 2022, when we hope to welcome local students to our campus again. These three plays join our world premiere of Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland as productions delayed by COVID-19 that we are committed to stage two seasons from now in 2021/2022. We will not move forward with Lee Blessing’s play Tea With The Boss (formerly titled Vivie) next season, and are not able to confirm future plans for that production just yet.
Despite these postponements, People’s Light stays on—that’s been our way from the start. Since we halted standard operations back in March, we’ve shifted focus to online and outdoor spaces. We launched our new virtual home, Always On, and took advantage of our 7-acre campus to offer socially-distanced outdoor events like our Drive-In Concert Series and Folk Tales In The Garden. The Farmhouse at People’s Light introduced a new menu for takeout and live music on Friday evenings for patrons who wish to dine al fresco on the lawn. The People’s Light production staff made about 1,700 masks for frontline workers, our Farmhouse kitchen provided food for a number of nearby health centers, and we re-homed a colony of honey bees.
People’s Light is fortunate not to be on the precipice of closure, but we are in a precarious position that requires us to be thoughtful and strategic with our limited resources. As a result, our approach to a revised 2020/2021 Season shares many of the qualities of the past few months, along with an enhanced investment in new forms of filmed theatrical productions.
Throughout Fall and Winter 2020, we intend to offer two or three filmed plays on Always On, along with a digitally streamed Holiday Concert featuring traditional music and original songs from our in-progress adaptation of A Christmas Carol. So much of filmed theatre is an archived recording of a live experience, and the home viewer is continually aware that they are not in the space where the story was designed to be experienced. For us, the opposite will be the case. The staging, sets, costumes, lights, and sound of our filmed performances will be conceived for the cameras, and our audiences at home. We hope to announce titles and release dates for our virtual programs soon after Labor Day.
Our ability to execute filmed productions depends on our evolving public health situation and permissions from artist unions. As of now, there is no agreement between the unions and the League of Resident Theatres of which People’s Light is a member. We hope that in the next few months, we will be able to safely bring together small teams of theatermakers and filmmakers into our Steinbright Stage, which will be converted into an indie soundstage. Following all safety precautions and protocols, these teams will collaborate to produce filmed versions of critically-acclaimed plays designed specifically for the home viewer.
Around the world, companies like us are trying to estimate when it might be possible to safely produce live theatre again. Some have determined they can reopen as soon as January 2021, while others have cancelled their next season entirely. We are hopeful there will be sufficient testing and enhanced safety measures in place for us to return to live performances in March 2021 with a Spring of New American Plays and Musicals.
Spring 2021 will include three staged productions—the previously announced world premieres of Walden by Amy Berryman, directed by Jackson Gay; and Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical written by B. Jeffrey Madoff with the music of Lloyd Price, directed by Sheldon Epps; along with a third production to be announced by December 2020. Specific performance dates are not yet confirmed.
Next spring will also feature a series of free play readings, including Mushroom by Eisa Davis and Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland by Steve H. Broadnax III, both of which will premiere as fully staged productions in our 2021/2022 Season. Readings of new plays by women focused on reshaping our future will surround our production of Walden and include Laura Schellhardt’s New Play Frontiers commissioned play The Game & The Change, inspired in part by her residency in Coatesville, PA. Additional readings will be announced in December.
Our 2020/2021 Season ends in the summer with two previously scheduled productions that reunite longstanding People’s Light company members: Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, directed by Executive Artistic Director Abigail Adams, and Sherlock Holmes and The Raven’s Curse by R. Hamilton Wright, directed by David Bradley.
All of this is conceived in hope. We simply don’t know what’s in store for the months ahead. What we can promise is that we will remain a hub of vibrant storytelling and unforgettable experiences, where people from all parts of our region connect with each other and celebrate our shared humanity. Online, outside, or back under our roofs, we will always be a people-first organization that aims to bring a little light into your lives. For that reason, we hope you will stick with us: keep subscribing, keep checking out what’s new on Always On, and keep supporting our artists who are physically and economically vulnerable in this crisis.
If you’d like to join us as a new subscriber, consider our flexible People’s Pass subscription. It includes six open tickets that can be redeemed in any combination to any production. We recently expanded its flexibility so that Passes purchased now can be redeemed for any digital or staged production in the 2020/2021 Season AND the following 2021/2022 Season. People's Pass holders can exchange tickets between dates, times, and productions without incurring exchange fees or upgrades, and take advantage of payment plans.