County theater groups face uncertainty

Cindy Tipton, Last Call Theatre Company president, front, and Lucinda Jobe, former president, have a laugh on the ‘Steel Magnolias’ beauty shop set in the War Memorial Building.

Loudon County theater companies have seen direct impacts from the coronavirus and are hoping long-term effects aren’t disastrous.

At Lyric Theatre Company, the past year has been bleak. The last performance the company put on was mid-February 2020. Actors and directors haven’t met since, Robert Harrison, LTC director, said.

“We’ve always been kind of a loose association, and I think a lot of us are just doing different things,” Harrison said. “I’ve been paddling a lot of whitewater. One of our members has just been doing a lot of gardening. We’re just finding other things to do.”

LTC was scouting for a permanent theater space, but COVID-19 interrupted the search. Harrison is now unsure what the future holds. He’s hoping to resume shows in the fall.

“I think we’ve just been pretty much dormant,” Harrison said. “I’m not optimistic that we’ll ever find a permanent home in Loudon County, and I think coming out of the pandemic there’ll be such a backlog of weddings and special events that we’ll be priced out of renting space. … I think we’ve got a prayer at having everybody vaccinating by the end of summer. I think we’ll just have to reevaluate in the fall and just see if there’s any interest in continuing. It’s an interesting time. I don’t know. A lot can happen in nine months.”

Last Call Theatre Company’s last performance was also February 2020. Members had a show, “Steel Magnolias,” planned for May 2020 with a ready cast and stage.

The show, however, kept getting postponed, Lucinda Jobe, former president, said.

“When we started this show it was supposed to start May 8, 2020, and we had to cancel,” Jobe said. “We thought maybe August, so we scheduled for the end of August. Well, that didn’t work. We thought surely by the end of November. No. Then we said by the first of the year in February we can get it done, and now we’re back to May.”

The cast has changed three times since the original casting due to flexibility issues, Cindy Tipton, LCTC president, said.

Jobe said LCTC would be in more strife were it not for city support. The company LCTC bought the rights to the play from has been accommodating. If the company had to cancel the show, it would lose the money spent on the rights to the play, Jobe said.

Jobe is unsure what long-term effects may await the company and future performances.

“Unless we lose interest in actors and audience and things of that nature,” Jobe said. “But ‘Steel Magnolias’ is a good, solid — everybody loves it. It’s relatable and that kind of thing. That makes it another reason why we keep trying to reschedule instead of just cancel because we know it’s a good show. Hopefully, we can do this one in May and maybe keep on doing — we have other ideas for late summer, early fall. And Christmas, hopefully we can do that.”

Tipton said the company may also face reduced crowd sizes.

“Another long-term effect that we might suffer is people being sorely afraid of crowds now,” Tipton said. “Because now, when you’re in a crowd and somebody coughs, you’re terrified. Especially older folks, which is mostly what our audience base is — older folks. Even I think more so than financially, that is going to be the hardest part for us.”