“There was never a point of scrapping the program,” said Barbara Brooks, the MJTC’s producing artistic director. “We wanted to advance our mission and serve our audiences.”
In order to do this, Brooks and MJTC knew they had to keep their artists working and their audience engaged. The four shows – 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, Operation: Immigration, Musical Revenue, and The People’s Violin – remain grounded in Jewish background while diving into the commonalities between people.
This season, entitled “Theater Six Feet Apart,” will be unlike any other, but it’s also a fitting title that encompasses the challenges presented by COVID-19. Brooks is ready to embrace the challenge with the opportunity to innovate.
“We reinvented theater; we can’t do the same thing, and we needed to change,” Brooks said. “Intimacy with the audience is a major part of theater, and the season-opening show (25 Questions for a Jewish Mother] will be featured in the backyard of private homes. This is a unique opportunity for the audience to be close to the performance.”
The season-opening show, which runs from Aug. 15-30, was written by Kate Moira Ryan and Judy Gold, and features Kim Kivens and Laura Stearns.
“The closer you are to the show, especially in such a personable setting as a friend’s backyard, the more immersed you become in the performance allows you to make a deeper connection to the story,” Brooks said. The show will also have several performances at the Wolfe Park amphitheater in St. Louis Park and Target Stage on Harriet Island.
The second show of the season, Operation: Immigration, is a one-man show written by Avi Aharoni, originally premiered at the Minnesota Fringe Festival last year, and earned Aharoni a nomination for Best Actor in a Play in the 2019 Broadway World Minneapolis awards. For the MJTC version, it will be filmed over four days and be available for pay-per-view – a format that allows for accessibility as anyone can bring the performance into their own home.
“Social distancing needed to play a role with everything we planned,” Brooks said, which meant following city and state guidelines with respect to COVID-19. For the backyard performances, the audience will be sitting in “pod areas” designated for family members. In addition, the audience will be asked to wear face masks and to bring their own chairs.
While Brooks and the MJTC acknowledge these inconveniences, she said that without social distancing protocols, the upcoming season wouldn’t exist. And these protocols don’t just apply to the audience. Performers will be given new individual wireless microphones which will limit the contact between performers. Also, the format of the performances has been designed with social distancing in mind. 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother is performed in an interview format where the performers are naturally spaced apart, and Operation: Immigration is a one-man show. Musical Revue, a show conceptualized by Brooks and Kevin Dutcher, will also be filmed for PPV. Details on the season’s final show, The People’s Violin, have not yet been released.
Due to ticketing system issues, tickets must be purchased in advance and over the phone; to comply with COVID-19 guidelines no tickets can be purchased at the door. Brooks said that serving the audience has remained her focus for the upcoming season – no matter how strange it will seem.
“While ‘Theater Six Feet Apart’ will have its challenges, it was our nimbleness to react [that allowed us to develop this season],” she said.
For ticket information for the season, go to the MJTC website.