COVID-19 may have shuttered the region’s three performing arts centers and dozens of regional theaters, but independent producer Ronnie Larsen has plans to revive live theater in Wilton Manors this summer.
Larsen, who has produced small plays and musicals at Wilton Theater Factory for the past three years, hopes to reopen in July with a series of one- and two-man shows in the 50-seat black box space on Dixie Highway.
“I came here to work and create theater,” said Larsen, who relocated to South Florida five years ago, “and with all the right health and safety precautions, we can get back to it.”
Following guidelines from the CDC, county and city, Larsen plans to remove half the seats in the intimate theater to allow for social distancing between both patrons and the performers. Audience members will be required to wear masks and there will be early seating and no intermissions, eliminating gatherings of crowds in the lobby. The venue will also be disinfected daily between performances. The producer plans to run a number of shows in repertory throughout the week, giving audiences multiple opportunities to escape their homes and enjoy a wide variety of works.
To open on July 10, local cabaret singer Jennifer McClain will debut an autobiographical show with the working title, “This is Me.” For years, McClain, a fervent LGBT ally, has been a fixture on the stages of Wilton Drive bars and other South Florida venues, performing standards from the Great American Songbook, show tunes, pop hits and gay anthems. The show, which will include monologues and musical numbers, will explore the experiences and emotions that shaped the flamboyant performer.
On alternate nights, Larsen plans to premiere two new works, both appropriately commenting on the pandemic and political fallout.
The first is “The Devil in Melania,” a dark comedy about the choices the first lady must confront when the President contracts COVID-19 and she is left with the decision to discontinue life support.
“It’s dark and she believes [Trump] is the devil,” Larsen explained, “but in the end, she lets the audience vote on the decision and someone is invited to come up and pull the plug.”
Given the president and first lady’s penchant for cease and desist letters, Larsen is not programming the play without full consideration.
“I may get sued, but it would be great publicity,” he said with his signature throaty laugh and adding that he can reliably predict how the audience will respond to the dilemma on stage.
The second play, “If I’m Good,” explores the relationship between a gay man and the patient his husband, an emergency room doctor, treated for COVID-19. The doctor contracted the disease from her and died, leaving his husband to cope with his feelings of loss and blame after he discovers she is a right-wing homophobic bigot. Nedra Biggers, an actress Larsen directed in his first play more than 30 years ago, is traveling from California to co-star with him. They’ve been rehearsing via Zoom video calls. “The question is whether audiences will come out,” Larsen said. “That’s the mystery.” Fortunately, the small casts limit production costs and because Larsen wrote most of the plays, there are no royalties owed. With so few tickets to each performance available, he has no expectations of profits, but will use ticket sales to cover rent and keep the theater open.
He pointed out, “Last year, I had five shows running at the same time and I swore I’d never do that again. But, it was a rehearsal for this year. People did come out more than one night a week. Going to theater became part of their lives and we’re hoping they’ll do that again. We’ve got to get through this.”
For more information and tickets, go to RonnieLarsen.com.