Metropolis resumes live theater with 'Little Shop of Horrors' outdoors
Like theater makers everywhere, the folks at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre found themselves doing things they never imagined in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Metropolis, that means taking the show outdoors.
To mark its return to live, in-person performances, Metropolis will stage its revival of "Little Shop of Horrors" under a tent a couple of blocks away from its Campbell Street home. The production makes Metropolis among the first Chicago-area theaters to resume in-person performances.
"There's an odd joy to 'Little Shop of Horrors,'" said executive artistic director Joe Keefe.
The cult musical is about shy flower shop clerk Seymour, who nurtures a bloodthirsty plant he names Audrey II in honor of his workplace crush.
"It's a funny, wry show, but it's also dark," Keefe said. "That darkness is measured against a sense of joy or celebration, against the menace or ominous feeling."
In that respect, the show seems to mirror the public mood now that the pandemic seems to easing.
Keefe and his team began outlining ways to resume operations last fall. They began by streaming "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" in February. For in-person performances, the safe, practical option was to stage the previously scheduled "Little Shop of Horrors" outdoors under Centers for Disease Control and Illinois Department of Public Health COVID-19 guidelines.
The tent, which typically holds 500, will be limited to 72 audience members who will be masked and socially distanced. Out of consideration for residents, evening performances will conclude by 9:30 p.m., Keefe said.
Until this week, rehearsals took place on Zoom under director Enrico Spada, who arrived in Chicago from Massachusetts a few months before theaters shut down. An outdoor theater veteran, Spada jumped at the chance to helm Metropolis' first foray into the format.
"There's a contract you enter into with the audience when you embark on an outdoor performance," he said.
Distractions are common, but "actors roll with the punches," he said. "I've done plays where kids would ride their bikes in front of the stage during the performance."
Cast members now wear masks for in-person rehearsals. Backstage, in a separate tent, they have their own pods separated by six feet. And they'll sing to recorded tracks to further reduce the number of people required to produce the show, Keefe said.
Metropolis' efforts to ensure the well-being of the actors, creative team and audience impressed Emilie Rose Danno, who plays Seymour's crush Audrey.
"I felt safe and I still feel safe," she said, adding "what's important is that people are mindful and caring ... We have to start somewhere."
"To embrace that opportunity to bring live theater back is wonderful," agrees Spada, who, like Keefe, praised Arlington Heights for its ongoing support.
Public response has been positive, Keefe said, and most opening weekend performances are already sold out.
"The people who are calling are so grateful they have something to do and a place to go," he said.
Still, not every patron is ready to return to live theater. When they are, Metropolis will happily welcome them back.
"Don't rush. We'll be here," Keefe said, pointing out that every day that passes feels a little brighter.
"We're seeing the light now," he said. "I feel a profound sense of gratitude that we're getting back to producing this wonderful art."
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"Little Shop of Horrors"
Where: Live performances of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival take place under a tent at Evergreen Avenue and Eastman Street in Arlington Heights
When: Previews begin Thursday, May 6, and run through Sunday, May 9; regular run May 13 through June 19
Tickets: Previews $35; regular run $40. Tickets available at (847) 577-2121, metropolisarts.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Seating is limited and physically distanced; face coverings required