Editor's note: This story is part of a series in which reporters check with Central Illinoisans about how their lives have changed in the pandemic.
SULLIVAN — John Stephens, executive producer for Sullivan’s Little Theatre-On the Square, admits he is a social person, relying on daily person-to-person connections.
However, his friends, co-workers and theater patrons have stepped up to help during the pandemic. “I can’t get over... how much of a family situation has been created here at The Little Theatre,” Stephens said. “From patrons and donors to our amazing actors and tech crew, I have had people reaching out to me daily during the pandemic to check in on the theatre and see how we are doing.”
The theater has been closed since March. The summer season, as well as fall and winter seasons, were canceled. According to Stephens, the theater has tried to stay relevant by releasing videos of casts singing songs from shows they planned to produce this year.
They have also experienced financial struggles. The losses for the year are expected to be more than $600,000, according to Stephens. “I have had to lay off all staff except for three people during this time,” he said. “Which was the worst feeling in the world.”
Actors and technicians have few places in which they are able to perform. Those in the theatre world are turning to online jobs teaching lessons in acting and singing. A few actors have been helping Little Theatre with the virtual Christmas show in production now.
“But for the most part, they are trying to stay safe, wearing masks and keeping to their small bubbles of people waiting for the day when they can perform again,” Stephens said. “Without any real help for theatres with the various COVID-19 stimulus bills, they will continue to hurt and many will leave our profession and many theatres will not reopen.”
Right now the future for the theater world is uncertain. If they were to reopen, the Little Theatre would be allowed to host only 50 people at a time. Masks and social distancing are mandatory. “It is our new normal for now,” Stephens said.
Stephens hopes to reopen for the 2021 summer season. “But will wait until a treatment or vaccine is widely available before the governor rolls into normality,” he said. “Even if we could have shows right now, I don’t think we would have full audiences because of the tight space we have for people to sit. It will be an interesting winter waiting to see how things go.”
In the meantime, Stephens stays active, for the benefit of the theater as well as himself. “I have cleaned my office more than it has ever been cleaned,” he said.
Actor housing and other areas are being renovated. Stephens also opened a second retail store selling his personal products from South Vine Clothing Company and Astoria Products.
The theater season has been strange for Stephens. For decades, he has been immersed in theater and the culture.
“It has been so weird to actually have a summer where I saw the sunlight instead of being in the dark theatre,” he said. “But I have walked every day and feel healthy and good and have loved the time with my family that I never usually get.”
How we're doing in July: Decatur-area residents share pandemic stories
Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR
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