Glen Arbor Players raise the curtain virtually

By Sally Barber Special to the Record-EagleDec 4, 2020

GLEN ARBOR — “Tidal Shifts” is more than the title of the Glen Arbor Players latest production. The play embodies the group’s break from stage to virtual production.

Pandemic restrictions prompted the community theater troupe to produce and release the Pricilla Cogan murder/mystery for YouTube and Facebook audiences.

Written by the Leelanau County summer resident, “Tidal Shifts” takes place in a nursing home where residents form an unlikely friendship to thwart an abusive caregiver and solve a cold case.

“For anyone with older parents or parents in senior housing, it will hit home,” said Pete LaPlaca, GAP steering committee chair.

GAP Readers’ Theater actors typically perform with scripts in hand rather than by memorization. The practice, along with limited stage movement and costuming, shortens time to opening night. The group presented more than 30 mysteries, comedies and dramas since 2011. Its new online format allowed GAP to remain active during the pandemic for the sake of its actors and audiences.

“I wanted to do this virtually because if you don’t use it,you lose it,” LaPlaca said.

The move to virtual under COVID-19 guidelines required adapting troupe processes. “Tidal Shifts” rehearsals began outdoors last summer before moving indoors to director Harriett Mittelberger’s home, where masks and social distancing allowed the show to go on.

Rehearsals then moved to Glen Lake Church, host to past GAP productions.The church offered its sanctuary, and cameras and sound equipment to record rehearsals, supporting the troupe in its transition from stage to video.

“We had to learn to play to a camera, not an audience,” LaPlaca said.

Play assistant director Teddy House said that in the end, trial and error led the troupe to adopt a strictly traditional readers’ theater approach for the virtual production.

“Our actors were extremely flexible and willing to try everything to bring a quality show to our community,” she said.

“Tidal Shifts” lead actress Jan Ford found advantage in the new approach. She said it was the first time the troupe performed for the camera. Actors were able to watch their rehearsals to assess and improve their performance.

The professional firm Garrison Digital filmed and edited the final 120-minute performance. Ford said the idea of performing before the film crew rather than a live audience was at first daunting.

“We thought it would be distracting. But we got used to it right away,” she said. “Having done this, I think we could do it again. We felt we stepped into the digital age without too much trouble.”

Ford looks forward to the troupe returning to the stage post-pandemic. But she acknowledges in the future the virtual format could open new opportunities for reaching audiences.

House said many theater lovers in the community miss GAP live productions.For now, the virtual show fills the gap. “It feels like they are connected to us again,” she said. There’s even a plus side for viewers.

“A lot have said they enjoy the fact they can experience theater in their pajamas.”

GAP invites everyone to come as you are to the free video performance on YouTube. Access the show at