Theaters in the Absurd: Washtenaw-area drama troupes announce cancellations, postponements, and out-of-business news due to the covid-19 pandemic


tragic masks

On March 12, Kickshaw Theatre announced on its Facebook page that it had to cut short its then-current production of Lungs, and because the show didn't have a full run, it seemed reasonable to wonder if the play might be rescheduled.

But on May 1, the cancellation became permanent: Kickshaw Theatre sent out a note that said the organization was closing permanently after five seasons. It also canceled the final scheduled event for the current season, Madeleine George's The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, which was to run July 9-26.

With the sad news of Kickshaw's demise in mind, we decided to check the updates of other theater groups in Washtenaw County to see how they were doing.

It's unclear exactly when the email was sent, but Encore Musical Theatre Company sent out a newsletter that it's "shutting down until further notice." It's currently posting videos on Facebook from people associated with Encore talking about the theater and what they're doing during quarantine. The remaining plays in Encore's 2019-2020 season were to be Guys and Dolls (April 9-May 24) and Mamma Mia! (June 25-August 9). The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

On April 23, Theatre Nova sent a newsletter explaining that Relativity -- a play about Albert Einstein originally scheduled to open on May 8 -- was moved to next season and an "expected Spring 2021 production." The theater also stopped rehearsals for Ann Arbor writer David Wells' latest play, Arabic to English. It was supposed to open on March 20, but it is now scheduled for Aug. 7-30. The rest of the 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

Chelsea's Purple Rose Theatre canceled the final play in its 2019-2020 seasonPaint Night, but it plans to reschedule this world premiere by playwright Carey Grim, though it's unclear when. Theater founder Jeff Daniels has been performing livestream concerts as fundraisers for the venue, which includes three performances this month: May 4, 11, and 18, all at 7:30 p.m. Click here to watch the concerts. Purple Rose is also hosting The Monologue Project on its Facebook and YouTube pages, featuring regional actors performing excerpts from plays that have been produced at the theater. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

There's no update from Redbud Productions about its status as far as rescheduling plays, but the organization's Facebook page is doing a marvellous job of linking to numerous previously filmed theater events that are now being streamed by troupes around the world. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

Roustabout Theatre Troupe postponed Michael Herman's Chasing Clouds (May) until the 2021 season, but the group hopes to conclude its 2020 schedule with the long-planned performance of Megan Richards' Shadow Calls (October 1-25). Both of these works will be world premiere shows by Michigan playwrights. No further updates are on Roustabout's Facebook page. The rest of the 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

The Penny Seats Theatre Company posted an update on April 23 that talked about the negotiations to put on its August production of Summer of Love at West Park. It all depends on if the actors can safely practice there during the month of July. The troupe is still planning on running Ripper (October) and The Winter Wolf (December). No further updates are on Penny Seat's Facebook page. The 2021 season has yet to be announced.

The Neighborhood Theatre Group postponed the final three productions of its 2019-2020 season. A staged reading of the musical Benestopheles! The Last Days of Ghoulita Graves has been postponed but not rescheduled. Headlines: A Sketch Comedy Show has been moved to May 2021, though on May 8 over on the group's Facebook page, there will be a live reading. And the musical Chick Soup has shifted to summer 2021. The full 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

On March 19, PTD Productions announced on its Facebook page the cancellation of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmann, which was to run May 14-23. Two other plays from PTD's current season -- Margaret Edson's W;t (August 20-29) and David Bottrell and Jessie Jones' Dearly Departed (November 12-21) -- are still on the schedule. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

The kid-cenric Wild Swan Theater announced on March 12 via its Facebook page that The Tale of the Mischievous Bunny (March 25-28) was canceled. Additionally, Treasure Island, which was to run April 29-May 3, was suspended. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

One Off Productions, the Washtenaw Community College theater group, still has Little Women scheduled for July 25-August 4. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

Eastern Michigan University canceled its final three productions of its 2019-2020 season: And Then... This Happened! (March 20-21), Tartuffe (March 27-April 5), and Edges (June 5-13). The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (A2CT) has the most productions announced for the 2020-2021 season, which kicks off September 3-6 with the musical Mama Mia! and runs through June 3-6 with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But A2CT had to cancel the last part of its 2019-2020 season, which it did so with a March 11 post on its Facebook page telling readers, "Due to cancellation and suspension of activities at the University of Michigan, we have had to cancel our production of Jeeves Intervenes, which was scheduled for this weekend, March 12-15." Not wasting any time, A2CT soon started ramping up its social media, announcing on its website that it will have weekly "challenges where you'll get to share clips and photos and memories, and see the same from other A2CT friends, using the hashtags #A2CTDramaticPause and #A2CTatHome." It also said its hosting an "interim season we're calling Theatre in the Ether, which will bring you virtual performances from some of our incredible cast members, kicking off in April with a stream of our most recent Junior Theatre show, The Wizard of Oz."

The University Musical Society (UMS) recently announced its full schedule of performances for the 2020-2021 season, which includes three theater events: Layl (Night): A Performance by Ali Chahrour (November 21), Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation (January 27-31), and Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster by Battersea Arts Centre Beatboxing Academy (April 23-24). UMS had to cancel everything remaining in its 2019-2020 series, beginning with the Tarek Yamani Trio on March 13. Several theater pieces and National Theatre Live filmed performances were among the cancellations.

The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society (UMGASS) canceled its take on H.M.S Pinafore with a Facebook and website post on April 10. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

On March 11, the University of Michigan's School of Theatre and Drama announced the cancellation of four productions: Die Fledermaus (March 26-29), A Beautiful Country (April 2-12), My One & Only (April 16-19), and the Musical Theatre Senior Showcase (April 20). The U-M School of Music, Theatre, and Dance Facebook page is currently highlighting its graduating seniors. The 2020-2021 season has yet to be announced.

Needless to say, almost all of these theater groups are doing fundraisers on their social-media pages in order to survive.

What a sobering update.

Here's a classic piece of cinema to lift your spirits:

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.