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‘The show must go on’: How Anchorage theater groups are performing through the pandemic

Matt Fernandez of the Anchorage Community Theatre showing a blank spot on a wall in the lobby where show marquees would have gone if the pandemic didn't put them on hold.
Matt Fernandez of the Anchorage Community Theatre showing a blank spot on a wall in the lobby where show marquees would have gone if the pandemic didn't put them on hold.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Sep. 13, 2020 at 11:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Plays and performances were cast, shows scheduled, scripts learned, but then, the pandemic happened.

Just like others who enjoy being under the spotlight and on a stage, members of Anchorage’s theater community are adapting to the times, stopping in-person performances and instead putting on shows virtually.

According to Anchorage Community Theatre Executive Director Matt Fernandez, performers in town got familiar with Zoom and other streaming sites for the same reason many others did: It’s a way to get the job done while staying a safe distance away from others.

“One of the big events for us - not just in the city but in the state - we help out with the Last Frontier Theatre conference," Fernandez said. “Most of us become readers for these plays that these playwrights will submit to the conference, and that got shut down as well, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we try to continue on with that in some way by doing Zoom plays?”

That turned into the ACT Virtual Short Play Festival, where submitted scripts came to life on the small screen. Fernandez said it was actually a pretty big hit with “hundreds of people watching." Spectators even paid for their tickets.

In a time when so many different streaming services are available, David Block, the artistic director for Midnight Sun Theatre Company, said he didn’t know how the sale of tickets would turn out. He was glad, he said, to find people supporting them.

“Streaming stuff on Amazon or Netflix or even YouTube, and it’s free or it’s five dollars a month, how do you justify a $15 or even a $50 ticket to go watch theater in a little box?” he said. “It’s hard to figure that out but audiences have been okay with doing those kinds of things.”

Block and Fernandez agree that theater people are a passionate bunch. Block said the pandemic ripped away a big part of their lives, and doing virtual plays is just a way to add back some normalcy for them.

“I work with a lot of young people here in Anchorage," Block said, “and kids are calling me and texting me on a regular basis and saying, ‘I don’t have theater in my life right now. What am I supposed to do?'”

Fernandez said ACT is working on its comeback. Inside its main building, the signs of redoing the layout of seats and stages for social distancing and other guidelines can be seen. He said the group is in the process of planning a show to be put on sometime in October, hoping it can happen.

In the meantime, ACT will host a Virtual Arts Day on October 3rd.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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