Across the nation, COVID-19 has shut down some of the country’s biggest cultural sites, from Broadway and Disney World to the Las Vegas Strip.
Fairbanks is a long way from New York, Florida and Nevada, but the effects are the same in Alaska.
Throughout the Interior, stages have gone dark as concerts, performances and events closed because of COVID-19. With several big shows and performances slated in the next two weeks, theater groups and performers weighed their options before coming to the inevitable.
For many, it was a hard call.
“The emotional response is like being torn in half,” said Peggy Ferguson, executive director of the Fairbanks Drama Association. Ferguson was directing the romantic comedy classic “You Can’t Take It With You,” set to open Friday at the Hap Ryder Riverfront Theatre. After some waiting, the theater’s board decided to postpone the show to an unknown date.
“It’s so hard not to pull the train into the station when it’s only just a mile from the station after such a long journey,” she said. “It’s a gut blow.
The cast started rehearsals Feb. 1 and were days from opening.
“FDA productions are unlike any other theater company in town,” she said. “Nobody is paid as artists, including the director and the cast. We are volunteers, we do it for love and not money. Other groups pay directors, orchestra, designers. That is not us, and that’s why we are outstanding and unique.”
At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Theatre UAF was little more than one week away from opening Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” set to take the stage on March 27. Their initial plans were for postponement since the UA system was shut down, but now with the news that spring commencements are canceled and classes are going online, the theater is eying opening the show in the fall.
“We are exploring possibilities with the cast mounting it in September but we have not yet heard back from cast members if that’s a possibility,” said Carrie Baker, a UAF theater professor who works closely with the department’s mainstage productions. “If we can do it in the fall, we’d really like to.”
And like Ferguson and the Fairbanks Drama Association, Baker knows too the feeling of working on a show only to see it pause near the finish line.
“As anyone who’s been involved in theater can tell you, it takes so much energy and sacrifice to go through the rehearsal process, and there’s the investment financially. To invest financially and not get the ticket sales is the rough part right now.”
UAF theater professor Kade Mendelowitz worked on the set and lighting for “Pride and Prejudice.”
“My heart breaks, of course, for the student performers.”
The Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, in response to COVID-19, canceled its remaining season with an official announcement released Tuesday. It read in part, “The Fairbanks Symphony Association is committed to its mission of bringing music to the Fairbanks community. And while the current crisis has us canceling events, we believe we all need music more than ever. We are looking forward to the time we can join together in the Davis Concert Hall and share with you our passion for music.”
George Rydlinksi, the principal bassoonist and marketing manager for the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, called the closures part of a coming together to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“If everyone takes it seriously, we can reduce this thing,” he said.
And while Davis Concert Hall is a regular home to the symphony, on Friday it was to play host to Celtic musician Eileen Ivers. Her concert was part of the Fairbanks Concert Association’s season and was the biggest seller of the year for FCA.
“This is an artist I love who hasn’t been here for 10 years,” said Anne Biberman, executive director of the concert association. “This town loves Celtic music — really, really loves it.”
Like so many other groups, FCA also canceled with the scope of public health in mind.
“I’m worried about patrons who might be looking at a loss of jobs and wages through all this,” she said. “One of the things we’re losing in addition to the concerts is the outreach. We had a school show with Eileen Ivers, and that’s 1,200 local school kids getting to see a performer they might not get to see live.”
Jerry Evans and Glenner Anderson are the duo behind AlaskaComedy.com, an outfit that brings up stand-up comics to tour Interior Alaska. They canceled an appearance by Kate Quigley, who was slated to perform for four nights in and around Fairbanks and the Interior.
“I think things will be OK by next season when this rolls around,” Evans said. “I try to look at the bigger picture. I know there are lots of people going through a lot worse stuff.”
Jess Pena, director of the Fairbanks Arts Association, released a statement about the closures and postponements of the entertainment and art world due to COVID-19, including the closing of Wandering Bear Gallery and the arts association office through March.
It reads in part, “Our team is working diligently to make adjustments to programs and to respond to the many artists, organizations, schools and arts supporters we work with regarding impacted events and services. As we all navigate uncharted waters together, I am heartened by the patience and compassion I see. This situation highlights just how interwoven the threads of our community are and how much we rely on one another to create collective health and wellness. So, let’s keep taking care of each other.”
Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or at twitter.com/FDNMfeatures.