Live theater is back at TheaterWorks.
For the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced the theater inside the Peoria Center for Performing Arts, at 10580 N. 83rd Drive, Peoria, to close after its last show in March, the artistic team on hand has re-imagined a way to present live arts, create expressionism, and maintain safety precautions in this new normal all at the same time.
“Curiouser & Curiouser” opens its run Thursday, Sept. 10 and will continue through Oct. 18 as -- in the theater’s words -- “an immersive, multi-sensory theater experience.”
How it Works: Up to 10 audience members per performance explore the world of Wonderland, where every theater, rehearsal space and hallway in the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts transports guests into the world of “Alice in Wonderland.” Audience members experience Wonderland as Alice would, exploring rooms, discovering scenes, meeting inhabitants of Wonderland, and enjoying performances in a new way to experience live theater.
“I’m sure the team would agree that we couldn’t be happier to be working on a production again after the uncertainty that closed our doors,” said Jenny Abeyta, a sculptor, fabric artist and paper artist, who is contributing props and scenic dressing to “Curiouser & Curiouser.” “That gratefulness for being able to create again has really driven us to produce our best work and to make this a safe and wildly fun experience for everyone who falls down the rabbit hole.”
The creative team and cast was tasked with creating an experience with safety as a top priority, and that required some innovative thinking and communicating.
“It was an unusual process in that we did not begin with a script, and instead, created an environment for the story to unfold, and then added in the narrative,” scenic designer and TheaterWorks technical director Heather Feeney said. “I found it particularly challenging to design some of the spaces without a clear understanding of what was needed to tell the story, and furthermore, to keep the audience separated from one another and the actors and actresses during the production. Inevitably, we discovered that we all needed to make changes and accommodations to keep the production fluid, but they were generally small concessions and it was relatively easy to make the adjustments.”
By the time the first show opens, TheaterWorks will have been dark for six months. While actors and crews have been itching to return to entertaining, there was no rush while safety was always the priority, explains TheaterWorks’ artistic director Chris Hamby.
“All the actors are equally as conscious of safety as the theater is – it is the top priority for everyone,” he said. “The actors and designers are all overjoyed to be back creating again, to be working, but everyone is being flexible and patient as we move through the process. There has been a tremendous amount of joy through our time working on this production as we innovate and create. No one wants to move too fast or take any risks when it comes to safety.”
The return of a live experience brings the natural question of what the future will hold for more live TheaterWorks events.
“That’s the big question. At this time, it is really difficult to predict the future,” Mr. Hamby said. “This time has forced TheaterWorks’ operations to essentially come to a screeching halt, which has both forced and allowed us to think strategically about what comes next. ... We won’t be able to ramp up quickly and we won’t be able to resume right away to the level we were operating before March 12. We will have to be very thoughtful about each decision and be very mindful of our fiscal position once we are able to move forward.”
During the “Curiouser & Curiouser” run, masks are to be worn at all times, all spaces allow for six feet of distancing, and guests will have their temperature taken before entering the show. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be asked to reschedule their visit.
“This has been an enormous learning opportunity for all of us, and I, for one, have learned to define theater differently,” Ms. Feeney said. “Scenically, we are traditionally bound by an aesthetic distance which allows for scenery to be finished in a way that is scaled correctly for an audience 10 or more feet away, depending on the space. In this production, every audience member is up close and personal with every room and can see the level of completion from a much finer lens, requiring us to produce more of an art installation than a traditional theatrical build.”