Theater, music programs adjust, cancel due to COVID-19

Lucie Krisman
NDNA News Service
The cast of Rock of Ages.

 Weslie Langton, who has been cast as the lead in a summer production at Fort Totten Little Theatre, said “Rock of Ages” will be something for people to look forward to with the loss of theatrical and other arts opportunities due to COVID-19. “I think it’ll be really nice just to have something going on,” said Langton. For audience members, “it will be something really fun to experience.”

Across the state, many theater programs and other regular offerings in the performing arts are on hold or adjusting in different ways as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the summer. Some local theaters such as Sleepy Hollow Theatre & Arts Park in Bismarck and Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre have closed their doors entirely for the season. In an online statement, Kirsten Dauphinais, president of the Grand Forks theatre, explained the financial difficulties facing community theaters across the country. Her theater has suffered from high costs and loss of revenue since February, she said. “It is the Board's emphatic intention to keep the theatre in good repair, satisfy all our obligations, and resume programming in various capacities as soon as it is safe to do so,” Dauphinais said.

However, other North Dakota theater programs are carrying on through the summer as normally as they can, including Frost Fire Summer Theatre in Walhalla, which will launch a four-part virtual series starting July 25. Theater-“goers” can enjoy the productions from home until Aug. 21. The long-running Medora Musical also resumed operations after reopening June 19 for the season with weeknight shows at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday shows at 8:30 p.m. A second show on Saturday and Sunday nights began July 4. The show opened with limited capacity and increased spacing between groups. “We have heard from thousands of folks, that now more than ever, the people of North Dakota need the Medora Musical,” Marketing and Communication Director Justin Fisk said in an online statement earlier this year.

At Fort Totten, the “Rock of Ages” show replaces a planned production of “The Producers.” Director Peter Foss said the theater quickly changed gears when the pandemic made it clear there would be difficulties, opting for a more outdoor-friendly show that was more concertlike. The show opens July 8 and will take place at Roosevelt Park in nearby Devils Lake, N.D. Seating will be sold in pods and spaced out to maximize social distancing, and sanitizing stations will be available at the park during the show.

“Honestly, the whole show is a big change from what we’re used to,” Foss said. “Overall, it’s totally going to look different, but I think the experience will still be the same.” Amidst the pandemic, nationwide protests and all other current events, witnessing musicians play together in her own backyard was a welcomed start to the summer for Grand Forks resident Betty Bloomquist. “It was wonderful to see them up there enjoying each other and giving us this gift,” Bloomquist said. “I was pleased that they wanted to share their gifts with us and they could create together with such good feeling.”

Bloomquist has been offering her backyard as a spot for local classical music concerts featuring student musicians since the beginning of the summer as a way to continue experiencing music in the midst of COVID-19. The idea has caught on with other Grand Forks residents, who are scheduling backyard concerts of their own.

As theater and music programs continue in North Dakota in the capacity they can right now, Bloomquist said she will host more upcoming concerts in her backyard and guests have been happy to experience them, even while socially-distanced. “It’s just really kind of amazing how pleasing it is to people,” Bloomquist said. “After these months of confinement, it’s just been a good experience.”