What will the summer of 2021 look like?

Deertrees Theatre will reopen its doors this summer, courtesy image

BRIDGTON NEWS – For new executive and artistic director Gail Phaneuf, it seemed every discussion regarding whether Deertrees Theatre would open this summer for shows and concerts was “difficult.”

“It’s a difficult subject for all folks to agree on,” she said. “We certainly had a lot of spirited debates early on in the planning, but we made the decision to create a season for our 85th anniversary at Deertrees.”

If all goes well, the historic playhouse will once again be full of cheers, laughs, classical selections and live music.

As Maine slowly pulls back Covid-19 restrictions and vaccination of the population continues to rise, there is hope that the summer of 2021 resembles why the Lake Region is such a gem and a magnet, drawing visitors from all corners of the country.

While some annual events — such as Gallery 302’s popular Art in the Park usually held in mid-July in beautiful Shorey Park — will again be canceled due to Covid-19 concerns (it will return in 2022), others prepare to move forward.

This week, the Bridgton Community Band announced that rehearsals for the 2021 summer season begin on Monday, May 3 at 7 p.m. in the Stevens Brook Elementary School cafeteria. Rehearsals will be held every Monday, except Memorial Day. All instrument players are welcome to participate, regardless of age or ability.

To comply with current CDC regulations, seating will be at a safe distance. Musicians are asked to provide a bell cover for their instruments and bring their own music stand.  

“Only those who have been vaccinated should attend at first; others may join when they are fully vaccinated,” the group said. “The Bridgton Band is looking forward to celebrating its 83rd year, and will present a lively concert of new music each week this season, under the direction of returning conductor, Steven Sweetsir. The free concerts are held Wednesday evenings at the bandstand behind Walgreens.  If you play, or have played, an instrument, please consider joining us and maybe bring a friend.”

For further information, contact Band president Dick Albert at (dickalbert43@gmail.com).

“Live” classical music performances return to Deertrees with the return of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival — July 13, 20 and 27 at 7:30 p.m.

“Because of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the Board of Trustees and the Music Director decided to modify the Festival’s 49th season to both live-concerts with audiences and online streaming concerts, performed by a core group of nine superb musicians, mostly from the northeastern United States,” a SLLMF statement released this week noted.  

Participating artists are Min-Young Kim and Keiko Tokunaga, violin; Laurie Kennedy and Matthew Sinno, viola; Mihai Marica and Bonnie Thron, cello; Jered Egan, double bass; and Yuri Funahashi and Mihae Lee, piano. 

For more about the Festival and scheduled performances, go to the website at SebagoMusicFestival.org or the Facebook page.

As Covid cases rise, however, some groups continue planning but worry a decision may loom whether to pull the plug once again or drastically scale back.

“We are still planning for Sebago Days (July 15-17), but it is still uncertain at this point with the pandemic still in progress. It’s very hard for us to plan ahead not knowing what the outcome of the pandemic going to be at that time in July,” said Carl Dolloff, president of the Sebago Days Committee. “The committee is still working on things. We ask people to follow us on our Sebago Days Facebook page for updates. With the current rise in daily (Covid) cases, it has us concerned.”

Right now, Kevin Hancock doesn’t know if Casco Days will be back in 2021.

“The short answer is it depends upon what state government is going to require for summer gatherings. It’s not really about the virus. It’s about the state’s response to the virus. If everyone who wants a vaccine has one by summer, I don’t know why we would still be required to be masked and distanced, but there’s not predicting the state’s position,” Hancock said.

The Casco Days Committee will meet again in early May to evaluate “our best educated guess regarding the state’s future position,” Hancock added.

“Casco Days doesn’t work — like many, many things — if you have to be distanced,” Hancock said.

Fans of seeing colorful quilts displayed by Chickadee Quilters at their annual July show will likely need to wait until fall. Officials are discussing holding an abbreviated fall show depending upon the availability of a venue and based on Covid-protocols at that time.

Susan Beane at Denmark Arts Center says the degree of uncertainty forced the DAC Board to take a three-pronged approach to 2021.

“The DAC board and staff positioned their programming decisions on CDC guidelines, Governor Mills executive orders, and Maine’s vaccination strategy, while observing pandemic decision-making of our neighbor states,” Beane explained. “Planning for an event is generally six months in advance, therefore scheduling indoor events for the spring was imprudent. We either cancelled events until 2022 (such as SheepFEST), sought to push them later in the calendar year, as with our Memorial Day children’s performance, or changed format to a Zoom program, as with our children’s May cooking camp — Cookies, Quickbreads and Cake.”

Beane said DAC approached artists, musicians, authors and performers in January with the option of presenting in a Zoom format, have an outdoor event, or perform inside. Once February arrived and vaccination rates accelerated, DAC officials contacted artists again with the option for inside events in October. 

“Our confidence is increasing with the CDC safety measures we’ll have in place that occupancy for indoor events in the Fall may be less restricted,” she said. “DAC was able to offer more outdoor dates for performers as the Town of Denmark was and has been extremely helpful permitting DAC to schedule events in Bicentennial Park.”

Once an acceleration of vaccines began taking place and Gov. Mills increased numbers allowed for outdoor events, Denmark Arts became “more confident of their three-prong approach to programming,” Beane said.

Part of any decision is how will programming be funded, especially after Covid-19 put the region in lockdown in 2020.

Beane said DAC has been able to make the decision to schedule a 2021 season due to generous support from Kendal C. & Anna Ham Charitable Foundation, Maine Bicentennial Commission, Maine Art Commission, Maine Humanities Council, Davis Family Foundation, The Robert and Dorothy Goldberg Charitable Foundation, Town of Denmark, and Charles and Rayma Guarino Fund. 

“Getting art into the community, supporting artists, and providing relief and respite for families is our goal for 2021 and is achievable only with the support we have received,” she said. “Subsequently, DAC will make camps free this year and reduce the cost of the After Dinner Music Series and Family Fun Day events. Foundations have been extremely helpful allowing changes to their initial grant requirements enabling these changes.”

Deertrees Theatre, courtesy image

Beane added that Denmark Arts Center will “remain flexible as the pandemic continues and implement indoor systems suggested by CDC to keep guests, artists, staff and volunteers safe and healthy.”

Turning the lights back on at Deertrees

Coming to a decision to turn the lights back on and piece together an entertaining schedule at Deertrees Theatre (DT) in Harrison required many conversations and considering many factors.

“Like all our peers in the entertainment industry, the Deertrees staff and Board have been carefully monitoring the pandemic and adhering to the evolving guidance from the CDC and state officials. We considered all options, from canceling our summer season, to only scheduling outdoor performances, to producing only smaller cast shows on our indoor stage,” Phaneuf said. “Our theatre is entirely unique in that as a summer-only theatre, it has integrated architectural elements that make it more like an outdoor performance venue, even when populated. Large open, wooden shutter windows and huge wooden doors act as a tangible portal to the outdoors — and Maine’s own natural air circulation.”

Sebago Long Lake Music Festival, courtesy image

DT reached out to several of popular bands and performers to discuss the possibility of planning events that might need to pivot to the large front porch — transitioning to an outdoor performance if needed.  

“The performers have all been extremely flexible when making arrangements, and also are excited to be able to perform in person again.  With each act, we have made custom arrangements, and have tried to overcome the hurdles of making ‘flexible’ contracts that we knew might change over time,” Phaneuf said. “With hope on our side, and an increasingly successful vaccine rollout, our optimism grew. All of our staff, volunteers, board members and interns will be fully vaccinated by the end of May, prior to the launch of our 85th celebration season.

What challenges does Phaneuf see ahead? 

“Our challenges will definitely be reducing the seating capacity for events to 75% while still keeping ticket prices low (we are hoping capacity guidelines may increase in July); the uncertainty of the volume of audiences that are comfortable returning to events and performances in person this summer; offering only online, touch-free ticketing, concessions, programs etc. (a technical challenge but fun!); identifying housing/accommodations for actors, directors, producers and all support staff  (in non-Covid times this is usually generously donated by local patrons); and raising enough funds to install a long-awaited new stage lighting system,” Phaneuf outlined. “A good portion of the lights were donated, but we are still focused on raising the remaining $50K for the completion of the project in May.”

Like past summers, Deertrees will offer a diverse offering. On the concert calendar:

• Beatles for Sale, July 10

• Mark William, July 11

• Anni Clark, July 16

• Don Campbell, July 17

• Susie Pepper and Mixology 007 Tribute, July 23

• Robin Spielberg, July 24

• The Back Pages 60s Party, July 31

• Piano Men — The Music of Elton (John) and Billy (Joel), Aug. 13

• Tartan Terrors — a Celtic Invasion, Aug. 20

• Milltown Roadshow, July 8 and Aug. 5 as part of the Salt Lick Café Series

On the theatre production list:

• Open House and Psychic Fair, June 19

• Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, June 24-27

• First Night, July 1-2

• Sound of Music Sing-a-Long, July 5

• Christine Hurley Comedy, July 30

• The Knotty Nite Play Readings, Aug. 14

• Drag Bingo Fundraiser, Aug. 28

• Always…Patsy Cline, Sept. 3-4

All staff, performing artists and crew will be fully vaccinated prior to performances.

(Website: deertrees-theatre.org)

How difficult was it to put together a program with uncertainty still existing due to Covid-19?

“Discussing COVID was a difficult conversation, different with every person we contacted over the last few months. Every performer and group and union and agent needed to discuss the decision to go to a theatre and do a live show. It has resulted in almost a unanimous YES to move ahead (and now performers are calling to book),” Phaneuf said. “I think this evolution back to performance is coming full circle, because attending ‘live’ performances will definitely play a large part in our communal healing. When people experience moving about the world, seeing our friends smiling and laughing again, they will embrace theatre, music and art — the place where we all happily resume vaccinated life.”

Read more . . .

By Wayne Rivet