South Valley Civic Theatre adapts to pandemic restrictions

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VIRTUAL THEATER Peter Mandel performs in South Valley Civic Theatre’s “Kalamazoo,” which aired on YouTube over one weekend. Photo: Elizabeth Mandel

With live, indoor entertainment one of the first activities to be prohibited during the Covid-19 era, and likely one of the last that will be allowed to resume, things have been difficult for theater groups across the country.

South Valley Civic Theatre is faced with one of the most difficult situations it has experienced in its more than 50-year history.

“‘Challenging’ is the understatement of the year,” said Myra Kaelin, president of the SVCT board. “SVCT has become a theater home, an extended family, really, for so many people in South County—my own included. The last several months have been incredibly tough, not only for SVCT but for arts organizations across the nation.”

The statewide prohibition on activities deemed “non-essential” decimated SVCT’s season. It had nearly wrapped up the four-week run of its teen musical “Rock of Ages,” but was forced to refund the final, almost sold-out week, which had significant financial repercussions, according to Elizabeth Mandel of SVCT.

The final two shows, “Cabaret” and “Beauty and the Beast,” were also cancelled, giving the theater group another financial blow.

SVCT took over management of Limelight Theater in Gilroy at the end of 2019. But its debut season has been put on hold. Mandel said SVCT had acquired a year-round alcohol license for the venue, and planned on expanding the bar to include signature cocktails.

But the artists, creative minds that they are, have figured out a way to bring theater to the masses under crippling restrictions.

SVCT recently put on a two-person play, “Kalamazoo,” which was filmed in front of a green screen inside the theater company’s warehouse. The show was posted on YouTube for one weekend, with much success: Mandel estimated the performance drew an audience of 600 people.

While SVCT is unable to charge for the viewings, many people have made donations, which help pay warehouse rental costs.

A second show, “Bad Auditions…On Camera,” was performed live on Facebook, with 19 actors, while “Tru” aired on YouTube Aug. 28-30.

The next show will be “2 Across” on Oct. 9-11. The production follows two strangers on board a San Francisco BART train at 4:30am. For 80 minutes, the two opposites are in an enclosed space, attacking each other’s values but also being swayed and intrigued by them. 

Directed by Jo Anna Evans, the performance stars Whitney Pintello and Charlie Gilmore. 

With the Gilroy Arts Alliance building going dark during the shelter-in-place order, SVCT was able to upgrade the lighting on the Limelight stage thanks to a grant from the Gilroy Community Foundation, Mandel said. Work is also underway on converting the stage into a thrust stage, which allows the audience to sit on three sides.

“We’re all trying to ‘make ends meet’ by getting creative with technology, hence our green screen, Zoom and filmed shows,” Kaelin said. “And, there are some really incredible things being done out there by other companies, too.”

The goal is to have a production every four to six weeks, according to Mandel.

“We artists have creativity in our blood,” Kaelin said. “There is no doubt in my mind that SVCT will be back. Yes, it may look a little different than what we’re all used to, but we’re already planning for that.”

For information, visit svct.org/limelight_online.