Theater folks often say, “The show must go on,” and Farmington Players has found a way to make that happen even during a world-wide pandemic.
The 63-year-old community theatre group had been preparing to open “Mary Poppins” on the Players Barn stage in Farmington Hills when Michigan’s “Stay Home. Stay Safe.” order went into effect on March 23. President Jason Wilhoite said the group initially planned to move the spring musical to fall, but soon realized that wouldn’t be an option.
“We cancelled that production, as well as everything for the 2020-21 season,” he said. “We had already sold more than half the tickets for ‘Mary Poppins’ at the time. It was sad from an emotional standpoint. It was also sad and impactful from a financial standpoint.”
A number of patrons decided to turn their ticket purchases into donations to the nonprofit. WIlhoite said season subscribers and other patrons have been very supportive. While the Players has some savings and no mortgage, the group must maintain its massive, barn-shaped home on 12 Mile Road with no live, in-person shows on the books for the foreseeable future.
“It’s scary,” Wilhoite said. “At first, I was very confident that this is going to be a year at best. Now that things are moving forward as they are, I’m fearful for a year from now… It was a very sad day when we did the math.”
Along with ticket sales, the revenue loss includes membership dues, which the group has temporarily frozen. Fundraisers planned for the end of this year include a Farmington Players calendar and a series of ornaments featuring festive costumes from past performances, Wilhoite said.
But money is only part of the challenge the group faces.
Farmington Players Audio Theater
“We want to stay engaged with each other,” he said. “We’re friends and family, and we are also creatives… I’ve never not had a show that I was thinking about that was in my future. That thought has always been in my mind, and that has been taken away.”
To safely provide performance opportunities for members and content for audiences, Farmington Players has released three “Audio Theater” productions, written by local playwrights. Episodes are shared on Spotify and on the Players’ Youtube channel.
Not only have the shows reached local audiences, but data shows that one person has listened in from Europe.
“The group has been very excited about the opportunity to show their work this way,” Wilhoite said. “I can’t tell you how nice it’s been to have a script in my hand again. It’s been a completely different way of thinking, how to present with only your voice.”
Audio Theater may become a part of the Farmington Players regular repertoire. It offers actors who may not be comfortable memorizing lines an opportunity to get “on stage” without that added pressure, Wilhoite said.
A common theme across the past eight months, he said, has been people finding ways to connect, even through pandemic shut downs, social distancing, and mask orders.
“You can’t and won’t be able to stop our desire to stay connected,” Wilhoite said. “No one in our group has said, ‘I’m out.’. Everyone has said, ‘This is something we’ll rise above, and we’ll come back.”
Follow Farmington Players Audio Theater on YouTube.com or Spotify.