Scenes from the Lincoln Academy and Heartwood collaboration of Guys and Dolls, whose sold-out run was canceled after the coronavirus outbreak.
Lincoln Academy’s spring musical in collaboration with Heartwood Theater, Guys and Dolls, was less than a week from opening for seven sold-out performances when the coronavirus outbreak made it clear that the show would close before it opened.
In his dual roles as Heartwood’s Artistic Director and the LA theater, Griff Braley made the decision. “Calling off the show was really tough for me as a director. I struggled late into the night to figure it out, reaching out to others who I trusted….I didn’t want to make the wrong decision. And I wanted to be the one to make it, so I could face the kids honestly. When schools closed the following Monday, the decision looked wise, but at the time it wasn’t totally clear what we should do.”
After deciding to cancel the show, Braley invited the parents of cast members to come to the final dress rehearsal on Saturday, March 14. “At that point the Governor and Maine CDC were recommending no gatherings over 250 people, and school was still scheduled to open the following week,” said Braley. Since Poe Theater only seats 150, “our decision to invite parents met all of those guidelines.”
In normal circumstances, opening night would have been six days away, and the show’s lights and costumes were still not quite ready for an audience, but people quickly pulled together for one special performance. Braley recalls, “everyone rose to the moment. Heidi Kopishke and Rosemary Campbell finished up the costumes, Ryan Kohnert and I set the light cues Saturday morning, Sean Fleming played music by himself since we decided not to risk the orchestra….and all the kids–goodness, what they pulled off in 24 hours!”
At 3 pm on Saturday what was supposed to be an early dress rehearsal became the play’s opening and closing nights wrapped into one. With an audience of about 100 parents, the actors gave it their all.
“It was a punch in the gut, because we had so much more time to rehearse, and we had such high hopes,” said freshman Izzy Petersen, who played a Hot Box girl. “It went well because we worked well under pressure, but it was hard. None of us expected to have our opening and closing night as a Saturday matinee for our parents.”
“Our family was ready to self-isolate, but this was really important for our kids,” said Izzy’s mother Hilary Petersen, whose son Scott played Nathan Detroit in the show. “They needed an audience to acknowledge their hard work.”
“Knowing that this would likely be our only chance to perform the show, there was a buzz backstage,” said senior Jojo Martin, who played Nicely Nicely. “People weren’t thinking about being sad, but about how they could perform the show better than they had ever performed it. There was this energy level like we never had before–everyone did their absolute best. I will never forget it.”
“On Saturday when we arrived Mr. Braley told us what was happening, and why he made the decision,” said junior Honora Boothby, who played Sarah Brown. “I think he made the right decision, but I was feeling a little sick while he told us. Then I decided to put it out of my brain. I went downstairs, did people’s hair, and focused on preparing as if we were going to do a show. That’s how I got through it–not thinking about how we were never going to get to do this again. I just focused on the show, and what scene was next. Even afterwards, it was like, ‘oh my gosh, look what we just did!’ Eventually when I got home, it hit that we weren’t going to do it again and I got really sad.”
Honora’s mother, Mary Boothby said, “I watched Honora–and all the kids–up there just owning the stage. They weren’t ready, they were working under pressure, with light cues and props they had never used before–but they had me the whole time. I swear every time they came out and nailed a song I had a frisson of happiness run through me!”
“The performance was emotional for lots of reasons,” said Braley. “Kids are resilient and they roll with the momentum created by a situation like this. Over the years, working with kids in competitive play contests, we’ve had high-stakes moments that felt similar. The loss is real, but out of that comes hope for something down the road. That’s really what actors have to do: fully invest in time and sweat equity, and then hope that the pieces will align in front of an audience. In 32 years, I’ve seen over and over how challenges change us, grow our empathy, deepen our resolve, and align our priorities.”
Canceling the show carried more than emotional costs. In the collaboration between LA and Heartwood Regional Theater Company, Heartwood actually carries most of the production costs for a show like Guys and Dolls, explained Heartwood’s Executive Director Joy Braley. “Anonymous donors, granting organizations, more than 100 local businesses and many individual donors make Heartwood youth programming possible, including this production. Nearly all of the Guys and Dolls expenses were paid in advance of opening weekend. Ticket revenue would have reimbursed Heartwood for a portion of these expenses. We are extremely grateful for community support, including gifts-in-lieu-of tickets. To date we have received about $2,500 against an expected ticket revenue of $13,000.”
Braley’s plans are to keep Heartwood’s Summer Camp on track and present a fully staged production of Guys and Dolls next fall. “We live in a great community, and we have really felt the support for this production.”
“It’s heartbreaking when you see all these incredibly talented kids put their whole heart–their whole self!–into a production designed to bring joy to others, only to have it cancelled at the last minute,” said Kim Tolley, whose daughter Emma played Adelaide. “My heart especially goes out to the four talented seniors who hoped to have this as one of the capstones of their final year at LA. I’m incredibly proud of these kids for their resilience and ability to pull together a top-notch show for a limited audience a week earlier than expected.”
See more photos from the final dress rehearsal of Guys and Dolls on LA’s Flickr page.