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As theaters cancel summer seasons, creative spirit carries on

Cortland Repertory Theatre
Cortland Repertory Theatre has canceled its five-show summer season, including productions of Hair and Big River

Even as the state looks for ways to slowly reopen New York’s economy, some of the region’s most popular summer events are being postponed or canceled. The list includes a growing number of summer stock theatres.

Syracuse Summer Theatre at the OnCenter made the announcement on Facebook last week. Its summer production of Sweet Charity was canceled. It was a difficult, but necessary decision, producer Sara Weiler said.

"Safety, of course, comes first, and we all want to be healthy and safe," Weiler said.

Last week, Cortland Repertory Theatre’s producing artistic director Kerby Thompson sent an email to season subscribers announcing the cancelation of five summer productions.

"It was the only decision to make for us. It was the most responsible and the safest decision," Thompson said.

Cortland Rep will take a hit financially, but Thompson said he was inspired by the generosity of the theatre’s patrons. Many of them refused refunds on their season subscriptions opting to donate it to the theatre instead, Thompson said.

Cortland Rep also anticipates some of its season sponsors will stay on board, and the theatre has applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program to keep its permanent employees working. Still, there’s uncertainty, Thompson said.

"At the end of the day, theatre is still a business, and it’s about keeping the lights on. And when your primary income is about gathering people together, what we do is the last thing that’s going to get back to normal," Thompson said.

In the meantime, Thompson sees an opportunity for new ideas and new work to emerge. Syracuse Summer Theatre choreographer Jodi Bova has a similar hunch.   

"You have a bunch of artists kind of pent up right now, not able to do what they initially planned, but that energy doesn’t stop. That energy is still there, and it’s going to be used. It’s going to go into different projects that maybe no one sees for three years, but I know that it will come out somewhere," Bova said.

When it does, Syracuse Summer Theatre at the OnCenter’s Artistic Director Garrett Heater said he’s confident theatergoers will line up to see it.

"There is no doubt my mind that the patrons are going to be there to catch what local artists are going to throw at them, which is very exciting to think about," Heater said.

Heater plans to use his extra time this summer writing.

"Hopefully some of those will turn into readings, local readings, or full mountings next year," Heater said.

As for Syracuse Summer Theatre’s Music Director Dan Williams, he’s offering piano and voice lessons remotely.

"There’s actually a need for that, and I’m getting students right now, which is really exciting," Williams said.

Bova, the choreographer, has been studying classic dance scenes.

"I’m taking some time to get back to my roots, so to speak," Bova said.

Cortland Rep’s Kerby Thompson has the 2021 summer season to think about -- his theater’s 50th anniversary.

"We had started plans already to do something special. I’m not going to say what they are, but we’re still kind of pursuing that," Thomspon said.