08 cfrtlogoThe 2019-2020 play season at Cape Fear Regional Theatre experienced an unplanned intermission due to the coronavirus. When the governor presented social distancing guidelines in midMarch, CFRT cancelled the rest of its 2019-2020 season, which opened with a bang with “Mamma Mia!” and closed prematurely with “Murder for Two.”  Nevertheless, the staff of the theater has worked tirelessly to provide the arts to locals in a social-distancing-friendly way.

The journey started with the theater hosting a free offering for a couple months that was open to the public. Staff at the theater and artists who worked with the theater in the past would emphasize something different every day, from song-writing to dance to writing monologues. On average there were 10-20 attendees per class. That’s when the staff at the theater saw how virtual meetings were taking off.

When schools closed, the staff launched Virtual Edutainment. “We thought, What can we do to keep the theater going and (to keep) the kids engaged who we would normally have doing studio classes or coming to the theater?” said Marc de la Concha, the director of education at the CFRT.

The staff had all hands on deck to brainstorm, and landed on offering online, week-long classes that had a different focus each day. 

“It would kind of take care of what students were doing in school in terms of art and music and physical education,” said de la Concha. Some weeks were generic and some weeks had themes like Harry Potter, Lego and Dr. Seuss, to name a few. The program ran for nine weeks.

People outside Cumberland County and even outside of the state tuned into the lessons.

The launch was a success. Offering classes for two K-2nd grade sessions a day and two 3rd-5th grade sessions per day, the teachers had about 15 kids in each class on average, and they were able to give individual attention to the children.

Around the same time as the Virtual Edutainment launch, the Spring Break Bootcamp was supposed to take place. To help all the students who signed up for it to reap its benefits, they moved the boot camp online, where it had 50-60 participants.

CFRT is no novice when it comes to community outreach. Over the past few years, the theater has also reached out to the military community through its Passport series.
“(The series) is basically a playwriting workshop that takes place over eight weeks, and it’s for military children. They were offering it on post at the Throckmorton Library for two years, and it’s grown so much that this past year we worked with the library in Hope Mills and Rick’s Place and had our program out at those locations as well,” de la Concha explained.

The program is free, and as time has gone on, it has gained momentum. In the first year, the program filled up in a day. In the second year, the program sold out in a couple hours. “This past year, it’s been minutes,” said de la Concha. “We’ll tell the parents, ‘It’ll open up on this day at this time,’ and within minutes, it’s full.”

For the first time this year, CFRT attempted to offer a program called Act Fast for the military and military-adjacent adults with funding provided by The Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County. The production was going to be called “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind,” a collection of 30 short plays, all performed in 60 minutes. With performance dates initially scheduled for mid-July, the performances had to be canceled due to the extension of Phase 2 social distancing, as well as the amount of participants who were PCSing.

Even so, Mary Kate Burke, artistic director at the theater, sees the attempt as a success because it brought part of the military community together. Because of the newfound friendships that were built during rehearsals, the participants were grateful for the experience, and many of them had a virtual Easter dinner together. The theater hopes to have Act Fast again next year.

“(The military) is always on the move, and it’s important for them to feel like there’s a place where they can gather together with people who are going through the same things that they are … The plays they write are really extraordinary, and it comes from a different place,” said de la Concha.

“It’s been an opportunity for them to get involved, whether they’re new to the area, they’ve been here a while, or they’re homeschooled or they go to one of the Cumberland County schools, it’s a great opportunity to get together with peers that are like them.”

Summer camps have always been popular at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, and this year is no different. As summer goes on, the theater will host programs for several ages. So far, CFRT has hosted one of its camps for the production “Kids Rock The World” for ages 6-9. There are two more camps for the production coming up in July and August that are almost completely sold out. For ages 10-14, a camp with a production of “Frozen” is being offered. One of them has already happened. A sold out camp is happening in July, and an  in-person camp  is being offered from July 27-Aug. 8 with some availability. From July 27-Aug. 15, CFRT is offering a camp with a production of “Puffs” for ages 15-19.

Kids do wear masks in the productions while the theater also emphasizes sanitization to ensure the safety of the children. The theater also has been careful to follow the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

One of the benefits of the CDC’s guidelines is that the children who participate in the camps are separated into three different groups. For example, one of the “Frozen” camps was split into three different groups, each of which did their own production. “We’ll have three Elsas, three Annas, three Olafs in each company. That’s great because … we’ve seen kids that have come here for years who feel like, ‘Yes, this is my summer,’” said de la Concha.

In a tumultuous time, the arts’ provision of creativity and joy is a much-needed constant. “I think everybody needs the arts, especially at a time like now,” said de la Concha. “We’re working very hard to make sure we can continue to make that happen.

Visit www.cfrt.org to find out more about what Cape Fear Regional Theatre.

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