Two timeworn sayings — “The show must go on” and “Where there’s a will there’s a way” — were reinvigorated by the Clocktower Players’ determination during 18 months of Covid-related challenges.
Despite the odds, including the loss of Clocktower’s home stage when Irvington Theater (IT) had to shutter on March 12, 2020, artistic director and executive producer Cagle McDonald found a way for the troupe to perform without a theater or a live audience.
During the past three months alone, three productions were filmed. “Cinderella” was streamed June 12-13; “Charlotte’s Web,” based on the story by E.B. White and adapted by Cagle and her husband, John McDonald, will be online June 19 at 7 p.m. and June 20 at 2 p.m., followed by “Puffs,” on June 26 at 7 p.m. and June 27 at 2 p.m. Cast members are from Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, and Hastings.
“When IT closed, we immediately had to cancel ‘Matilda,’ which was set to open that very weekend. We also cancelled our Springtacular Fun-Raiser,” McDonald said. “We postponed ‘Frozen’ and ‘Cinderella,’ which had already been cast with the kids hard at work in rehearsal. We really wanted to finish the work the kids had started.”
With that goal in mind, McDonald considered virtual productions, but the obstacles proved prohibitive. Licensing for streaming was not yet available and the technology for musical recording had what McDonald called “horrible delays.” With no idea when IT would reopen, there was no space for rehearsals or performances.
So McDonald searched for a venue that could be used both indoors, allowing for social distancing, and outdoors. She found what she needed at First Reformed Church in Hastings, where rehearsals and filming started in April of this year.
“Pastor Emily Brown, office manager Trish Water, and sexton Hanna Skaskiv welcomed us with open arms and have been super accommodating during this difficult time,” McDonald said. “We were really playing everything by ear. The shows had been cast in 2020, so it was a question of how many members would show up. It was absolutely necessary to rehearse with the kids in person. In the end, the eight for ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and the 15 for ‘Puffs’ came. It was important that we be together as a company again.”
“Charlotte’s Web” was performed by students in grades 1-4 while “Puffs” was performed by students in grades 5-12.
McDonald and her team also had to work around the ever-changing school and sports schedules that went from all remote, to hybrid, to all in-person. Scheduling dates for airing of Clocktower productions was also a challenge. Then, along came the rain and winds of May.
“It has been a long road and it has been challenging. You think you can do four things at once and that proves more difficult than you ever imagined,” McDonald said. “But it has been fun, too.”
Rene O’Neal of White Plains directed “Cinderella” and “Charlotte’s Web.” She agreed with McDonald about the challenges and the fun they experienced.
“Before we started rehearsing at First Reformed, we did it by Zoom, which qualifies these productions as ‘hybrid.’ This helped the cast to find their characters and learn their lines. When we were able to rehearse in-person, with small numbers of cast members at first, everyone was wearing masks. You can see that in the film. Then everyone got vaccinated, so the masks came off,” O’Neal said.
In order to make the backgrounds more interesting, a green screen was put behind the cast while filming.
“We didn’t have sets or backdrops, so we added those digitally where the green screen had been,” O’Neal said. “It all comes together beautifully.”
While First Reformed had been a perfect setting for Clocktower’s needs, its long-term availability was questionable due to rental commitments made prior to the pandemic. So, once again, McDonald went looking for a space, not knowing when IT would reopen. Next stop: the American Legion on Farragut Avenue in Hastings.
“A full 2021-22 season is now being planned, with American Legion as our main rehearsal space for all youth programming beginning in September,” McDonald said. “And I thank Bob Russak and legion members for welcoming us there. First Reformed Church will be used when it's available, primarily for adult rehearsals. We plan to come roaring back with a full schedule.
“A ‘Family Picnic Fun-Raiser’ will launch Clocktower's 44th season in mid-September, also at American Legion,” McDonald continued. “Our plans for that include a concert featuring CTP talent performing party tunes covering ‘Jersey Boys,’ Abba, the Temptations, and more.”
With the will to find a way, Clocktower Players’ shows indeed go on.
Tickets for “Charlotte’s Web” and “Puffs” cost $15 for one, $25 for a family. Visit clocktowerplayers.com.