NUTLEY, NJ — Many theaters shut down last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and some will never reopen their doors, unable to overcome the loss of ticket sales and production revenue. But the Nutley Little Theatre wasn’t one of them, and it is now launching its first season with live, in-person shows since the 2019-2020 season was cut short. Starting with two filmed and streamed performances, “A Clean Shoot” from Sept. 16 to Oct. 14 and “Effigy” on Oct. 1, Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, the theater staff created a hybrid season, quite similar to how many schools operated last spring.
“It’s been interesting,” Nutley Little Theatre Vice President Gina Sarno said in a phone interview with the Nutley Journal on Sept. 20. “We’re in this transitional period where some theaters are opening again. I think people are ready to come back, but some aren’t.”
The delta variant causing an uptick in COVID cases also caused concern, prompting the theater’s leaders to be cautious in its comeback.
Hence the filmed shows, which were shot by the cast and crew in the empty theater on Erie Place and will be broadcast to those who bought tickets, who can watch from anywhere they have internet access.
“We’re watching and prepared,” Sarno said. “We did make the decision for at least the first live show to have audience members show proof of vaccination and wear masks the whole time. We’re keeping an eye on what’s going on.”
Actors who want to audition for shows are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19; all crew have been vaccinated. Though there are backup plans in place should worse come to worst, the Nutley Little Theatre is carrying on, eager to provide a full, regular theater season.
“Clark Gable Slept Here,” a play by Michael McKeever, was rehearsed and ready to open when the pandemic prevented the curtain from rising, so it was rescheduled to this year’s season. It will be performed in 2022, from Feb. 11 to Feb. 26. Two years after the planned opening date, the theater is finally starting to make the money it would have made back then. But the Nutley Little Theatre found support even during its all-virtual 2020-2021 season.
“Virtual shows really helped us through quarantine,” Sarno said. “We were streaming online. We weren’t charging for tickets, but we were encouraging donations. So many members and local businesses helped, even when they were going through hard times themselves. As hard of a struggle as it’s been, we’ve been so lucky.”
Sarno is also the planning chairperson for the theater, so she’s involved with reading writer and director submissions to choose the shows that get staged. After a year filled with plague and social unrest, a lot of people don’t want to see dark pieces, so the staff has to balance out the genres being staged.
“We read every play and think, ‘Could this work on our stage? Will the rights cost too much?’” Sarno said. “Then it’s fitting the puzzle pieces together. We don’t want to have two dramas in a row or a full season of comedy.”
The first in-person show is the one that she’s the most excited about. “The Ghost Train,” written by Arnold Ridley and directed by Ellyn Essig, is a murder mystery that will be staged from Oct. 15 through Oct. 30.
“I’m excited about everything,” Sarno said. “There’s a feeling of, we’re back and seeing live theater again, but also, this could all go away tomorrow.”
More information about the 2021-2022 theater season at NLT and a link for ticket purchases can be found at www.nutleylittletheatre.com/current-season.
“We heard so many stories about theaters having to close for good,” Sarno said. “We came close, but we’re very lucky. We’re hanging on.”