Following the lead of Broadway theaters, The Winter Park Playhouse will remain closed until January 2021. In doing so, it has become the first major Central Florida theater to shift the remainder of its season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than cancelling any performances, all programming originally slated to begin in August 2020 has been rescheduled for 2021.
Although other local theaters and performing arts organizations have plans to reopen, staff at The Winter Park Playhouse felt it was important to remain closed for the safety of its patronage. “We are really looking to the CDC and the government –– local, regional and national –– for guidance on [what they’re allowing for] performing arts, specifically,” said Heather Alexander, co-founder and executive director of The Winter Park Playhouse.
With only 123 seats, the theater’s small size is not conducive for social distancing, making it challenging to put on a main-stage performance. And if the playhouse was to operate at 50 percent capacity, the cost of putting on a musical for 62 people wouldn’t be adequate to cover the cost of production. Additionally, because the playhouse is affiliated with the Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union representing professional actors and stage managers, many of its actors are restricted from performing in live shows for the foreseeable future.
As a non-profit charitable organization, deciding to remain closed was not something Alexander, nor the rest of the playhouse staff, took lightly. “We are doing everything we can… but it’s a huge financial hit for the organization,” Alexander said. “We’re looking at options to offer [virtual programming] later this month to bring in some much-needed funds.”
To stay connected with the community, Alexander, to whom she is affectionally referred by her staff as “the hugger,” sends a weekly personal video message and video clip of a past performance to remind patrons of the joy the playhouse brings them.
“[Winter Park Residents] have just been fantastically supportive of the decisions we’ve made along the way, knowing how difficult they are –– sending their love and support, making donations if they can, and just letting us know how much they miss us and can’t wait for us to reopen in January,” Alexander said. “It is difficult, but we are going to reopen. We will be back together soon.”
Those looking to show support for The Winter Park Playhouse can do so by purchasing season tickets for the 2021 season, making a direct donation, or participating in an upcoming virtual event.