Leander theater faces COVID-19 closure and move

Williamson County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — “COVID sucks,” Bethany Watkin said.

Bethany Watkin, featured on the left (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Only one year into her position as head production chairperson of The Way Off Broadway Community Players, her Leander community theater is in dire jeopardy.

The theater has been around for 23 years but has only been in its current location for 10. But they won’t be there for much longer.

By the end of July, they’ll be gone from the building.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with lock down, has completely wiped out play revenues — they haven’t held a live play in months, which financially hurts.

“It’s almost like a grieving process. You get sad. You get angry. You get angry because it’s out of your control and you get angry because COVID sucks.”

The previous season was excellent for the theater.

They made roughly $11,000 from their last play for just eight total performances. Their current planned production of “Murdered to Death,” was supposed to open June 12, and they had hoped for similar results.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Much of their anxiety came from Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan of reopening the state and who was included in each phase.

They kept hoping for some word about live performances but say they felt neglected early on when movie theaters and bars were allowed to reopen and they weren’t.

“When we weren’t addressed [in the order], I told my cast, ‘Write to our local [elected politicians] and see, and tell, Abbott to address this because we need to know.”

Watkin says decisions should be made by officials soon, because a community of arts lovers are waiting.

One of those community members — Scott Hall, a cast member — went through a rollercoaster of emotions, especially after a COVID scare.

Scott Hall, featured on the right (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

“…I was the cast person who had to break the news that I’m having to go into this quarantine and now everything’s getting canceled… I’m the one who has to say sorry… I battled so much internal guilt… But my cast members are great and my director. They all were very good about reassuring me, ‘Hey, this isn’t your fault. We want you to be safe and healthy,” Hall said.

This was his first play performance — cut short by the coronavirus. But both he and his wife tested negative and are doing well.

He said he wouldn’t change how he handled stopping the show though.

“We can’t risk exposing the audience to anything like that. Luckily my wife’s and my tests came back negative, so that’s good but we just wanted to make sure the health and safety is way more important than anything we can do. We’re very disappointed we had to cancel and not be able to put the show on.”

State of the stage

As it stands currently, people are permitted indoors up to 50% of the total listed occupancy at fine arts performance halls. There is no limit outdoors, but guests must have six feet of social distance between groups and those groups cannot exceed ten persons.

The theater posted their most recent update on their website and social media pages:

June 13, 2020

To our dear patrons and volunteers,

An update to share. We will have to postpone the show until further notice. As such, next weekend’s showings of Murdered to Death (June 18-20) are also cancelled. 

Please see below how to handle your tickets. We are just as saddened about this situation. We hope to be able to bring you more live theater in the future.

Respectfully,

The Board of Directors

Way Off Broadway Community Players

The show must go on?

To recoup some of their losses, “Murdered to Death” author Peter Gordon gave permission to record and stream the performance to those refraining from going out. However, because of cast members going into quarantine, they’ve also had to delay that effort.

Depending on what’s allowed by the State, they’re hoping to possibly do pop-up theater for a while, and then see where they can find space, such as outdoor venues. The production committee is even considering doing a drive-in theater. Zoom is still on the table, but the ultimate goal is to have a space again.

For those interested in helping the theater as they figure out their next steps forward, you can donate to them on their website.

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