NEWS-PRESS No show: Florida Rep cancels 2020-21 season because of coronavirus pandemic

NEWS-PRESS No show: Florida Rep cancels 2020-21 season because of coronavirus pandemic

Dave Osborn

Sept. 23, 2020 | 10:00 AM

Sometimes the show doesn’t go on, especially during a global pandemic.

Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers announced Wednesday that it will postpone its nine-show 2020-21 season for a year because of COVID-19.

“To be fiscally responsible and to be responsible in a public health way, this is the best decision for this organization right now,” Greg Longenhagen, Florida Rep artistic director, told the News-Press.

“First and foremost on our mind is safety,” he added, noting a large proportion of Florida Rep’s audience is in the most vulnerable age group of contracting the virus.

“In good conscience, we couldn’t open the doors to bring them back into our spaces.”

The professional theater company nearly one year from now will offer the same plays it had planned for this season, including “BUDDY: The Buddy Holly Story,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “West Side Story.”

“In February, we announced our nine-show 2020-2021 season after months of careful planning and selection,” Longenhagen told subscribers and others in an email.

“However, as we monitor the ever-changing public health situation, it is clear that we cannot commit to producing those plays and musicals at the quality and caliber you deserve — at least, not yet.

“Along with my team, I spent the summer weighing various options and have come to the tough — but necessary — decision to postpone the 2020-2021 season. Rather than adapt the professional season to the changing times, we will move every production to the following season, 2021-2022.

“We’ve lifted the whole schedule and moved it one calendar year later — with a first preview date set for Irving Berlin’s ‘I Love a Piano’ on Sept. 28, 2021. We’ve already secured the rights to perform the same nine plays and musicals in our 24th season.”

The downtown venue with two theater spaces — the 393-seat historic arcade and 116-seat black box studio — earlier this year hit the pause button on its 2019-20 season, as COVID-19 began to sweep across the U.S. and other countries. Theater officials had hoped by the fall the virus would have tapered off but decided to bypass the upcoming season as well. Some Southwest Florida theaters have reopened, including Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers. Artis—Naples recently announced some shows for its 2020-21 season with safety guidelines, but it will not offer its popular Broadway shows.

“I applaud folks who feel they can have their venues open. I really mean that,” Longenhagen said.

“We’re a professional union theater, an equity union theater. We have to comply with certain rules. Some of the other theaters are able to open because they don’t have restrictions.”

Florida Rep still hopes to host outdoor plays in space around the theater, such as grassy areas where patrons park their vehicles for shows, he said.

“It will be the level of work people are used to but we’ll be working with a smaller cast,” Longenhagen said. “Anything we put up on our stages will be Florida Rep caliber for sure.”

Plans also are in the works to hold virtual events, which also was relayed to subscribers and others in the Wednesday email. Other information in message included what postponement means for ticket-holders.

Longenhagen in his note to subscribers assured them that the theater will return better than ever.

“Because of you, Florida Rep is strong, and we will get through this challenging time together,” he wrote.

“Your support and advocacy have never been more critical than they are right now, and our promise to you is this: we will never give up. Florida Rep is your theatre, and we will not rest until we can shake your hand in the lobby once again.”