For five months the coronavirus has stilled community theaters, leaving stifled players to soliloquy at home in front of foggy bathroom mirrors.
Now, with many virus restrictions lifting, several Merrimack Valley troupes are reappearing, actors edging closer to the stage, eager for lines, musical numbers and action.
The Pentucket Players will present "The Addams Family" outdoors at Winnekenni Castle over Labor Day weekend. Three city-approved shows will be performed with actors in masks before limited audiences, well spaced. The shows will also be live streamed.
Live and online performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 4-6 at Winnekenni Castle, Castle Road, Haverhill. For tickets and times visit pentucketplayers.org.
This is the theater troupe's second streamed presentation. The first was in May, when members performed 20 Stephen Sondheim songs.
The show made enough money to keep them afloat, and the performers were so happy to be together again that it brought some of them to tears after the show was done, said actors Chris Albrecht of Methuen and Angelica Jeffreys of Newmarket, New Hampshire.
Jeffreys, also the Pentucket board president, said the coronavirus shutdown had been hard for the troupe after 26 years of performing three or four shows annually.
"It was like somebody slammed a door," she said.
The door has opened — at least partially, though not without big challenges. The cast has learned the show in only six weeks instead of three months and largely at home, said Director John Buzzell, a Haverhill resident.
At an in-person rehearsal in Lawrence on Aug. 18, as Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester and the rest of the cast sang, stage manager Patrick Oteri of Merrimac kept close eye on the time.
Every 18 minutes he had to clear the set in Pentucket's fifth-floor mill space and air out the room with fans.
Also, on a weekend earlier this month the Lawrence-based Acting Out! Theater Company put on a student presentation of "Godspell" in a courtyard by their Island Street studio.
The shows, done by 16 actors with Jahmo Chavez of Lawrence as Jesus, played to 30 people.
The cast achieved social distancing through elevation, performing on blocks set up high. The show was an uplifting, moving experience, said audience members and Acting Out! President Linda Schoonmaker.
Schoonmaker's greatest concern is just staying open after having paid for the licensing of seven scripts that have yet to be presented due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Schoonmaker has an adult show, "Spoon River Anthology," planned for the courtyard. They are rehearsing a student show of "Beauty and the Beast" to be filmed and shown at various outdoor venues.
"My goal is to make it to March," Schoonmaker said. "If we can make it to March, maybe we can put a show on. But who knows. It is a total crap-shoot."
"Godspell," which offers directors wide set flexibility (Schoonmaker has seen it performed as a cocktail party and in a junkyard), has been a popular production among theater groups making a coronavirus comeback.
The Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport also performed "Godspell" earlier this month at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury. The shows were drive-in performances. People watched live performances from their vehicles, listening to the vocals on their radios.
“We started seeing the drive-in movies pop up and we thought, ‘Why not drive-in theater?’” Firehouse Executive Director John Moynihan told the Newburyport Daily News recently.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and virtual programming is difficult in the summer because people want to be outside.”
Another drama group in Lawrence, Spotlight Playhouse, assembled a live cabaret presentation, "Here Comes the Sun," outside at Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover on Aug. 29 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Aug. 30 at 2 p.m.
Last March, Spotlight was poised to present "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" when the curtain fell. Other groups had the same hard luck, and all theater companies have been forced to forego their regularly scheduled 2020 seasons.
Yet, acting enthusiasts are desperate to return to their roles.
Buzzell said there is often some negotiating after the cast has been selected. An actor might not be available to rehearse a particular night of the week.
That wasn't the case with "The Addams Family."
"Everyone accepted their roles on the spot," he said. "Everyone was dying to get back to theater."