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The Show Must Go On

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This is the message that Stage West Community Playhouse (stagewestflorida.com), a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization dedicated to promoting the theater arts, has for the community that the theatre has served for four decades.

After the playhouse’s 2019-2020 season was disrupted due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stage West was faced with a darkened stage–a postponement of the dramatic, comedic, and summer student theatre programs that arrived every year on schedule, as sure as the seasons.

“It’s been a difficult thing,” said Stage West president Lynda Dilts-Benson. “Our 2019-2020 season was supposed to include eight shows, four plays, and four musicals. We made it through the third musical, Spamalot, and were about to perform the Stephen Sondheim musical, Company.”

Just then, the world changed; afflicted at once by a global pandemic that forced musical and theatrical groups everywhere, along with numerous schools and businesses, to cease their operations.

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And on the Stage West Facebook page, visitors were greeted by the image of a stage left partially dark–save for a single light.

This image reflects the recent history of Stage West Community Playhouse. For while Stage West canceled both their student summer theatre program and their performance of Company, as well as other meetings and events set to take place at its location at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill, this company immediately started to conceptualize a return to the stage.

“We’ve lost a lot of revenue. But the health and safety of our audience and performers always comes first. We needed to postpone,” said Stage West president Lynda Dilts-Benson, “until we can reopen safely.”

And now, after a lengthy intermission, Stage West is back.  

Stage West Playhouse currently plans to kick off its 2020 – 2021 season with its planned production of Run for Your Wife, Sept. 8-20.

“Our 2020-2021 season will be our 40th anniversary,” said Dilts-Benson. 

Stage West organizers wish to stress that this production of Ray Cooney’s brash contemporary comedy will proceed as scheduled only if Florida state COVID-19 regulations allow it.

“We will perform all of next season, if state regulations allow for public performances, in our main theater, with never more than 200 seats sold and never more than 50 percent capacity,” said Dilts-Benson.

Full social distancing, cleaning, and sanitation standards also will be reinforced, and audience members will be welcome to wear masks if they choose.

“As far as health and safety standards go, we want to lead the way,” said Business & Policy Director Theresa Stenger. “Cleaning, encouraging people to social distance, having theatre staff wear masks, reassuring the public.”

And what if state health restrictions prevent the play’s performance?

“We may read the play over Zoom if we have to,” said Dilts-Benson. “We just want people to know that this performance will go on.”

Stage West’s 2020-2021 season also will–conditions permitting–include The Kids Left, The Dog Died, Now What? – Oct 15 – 25; Clue, On Stage – Nov. 12-22; Something Rotten – Jan 14-24; Little Women – Feb 11 – 21, Mamma Mia – March 11 – 21, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) – April 15 – 25. Season tickets for this season are only $96 for all 6 shows and are available through the box office. (Smaller packages are available). For more information, call the theatre box office at (352) 683-5113.

Stage West is taking a number of steps to prepare for its 40th anniversary season and is seeking directors and performers for its upcoming 2020 – 2021 season, as well as for Run For Your Wife. Auditions for Run for Your Wife will be conducted on Friday, July 17 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 18 at 1 PM; and -Sunday, July 19 at 1 PM. Social distancing measures will be in place. For more information, call (352) 683-5113. Interested directors should send their resume to [email protected].

“We’re interested in seeing their body of work,” said Dilts-Benson. “We’ll consider anyone with any directorial experience. Directing is directing.”

Plans are also underway for the planned refurbishment and remodeling of Stage West’s host facility. Aside from enhancing the overall look of the playhouse, organizers want to broaden the theatre’s structure and mission to assume the form of an arts center; one in which theatrical, music and dance, visual and literary artists convene to learn and practice their craft–all the while enjoying refreshments and the company of other artists. And they wish to continue their tradition of offering art classes and kid-centered productions for children.

“Both kids and adults try their hands at the theatre here,” said Stenger. “We want to continue to be the conduit to those who want to try something new but have no support. And we want to share with kids that this is what they can accomplish in the future.”

“That will be the legacy for all of us,” declared Stenger.

Stage West Community Playhouse will continue this legacy with help from the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, who recently gave them one of four $1500 emergency grants to support Hernando performing arts nonprofit groups whose revenue has been affected by the pandemic. 

Dilts-Benson says that the arts grant will be used to rekindle the Stage West youth drama education program. And she encourages anyone who wishes to support the Stage West refurbishment project to learn more about becoming a patron at https://stagewestflorida.com/advertising/ or support the playhouse through Amazon Smile.

Regardless of the manner in which future Stage West performances will be presented, Dilts-Benson promises that the group always will deliver on the timeless promise inherent in its mission.

“We want to bring happiness, entertainment, and education to the community.”

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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