Whether under the glow of stage lights or broadcast from far away, the show must go on for First City Players.
Since the arrival of the coronavirus in Ketchikan, FCP has not performed a live show in order to help flatten the curve of the virus, which halted the production of a musical that originally had been scheduled for this month.
Before the process of completing callback auditions could be completed, FCP decided to postpone the production of “Honk!”, a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Ugly Duckling.”
Now, in the same month that the musical was set to open, FCP has decided to produce a new kind of show — a radio play.
FCP took to social media to announce that “The Importance of Being Earnest” would be broadcast as a radio production through KRBD.
FCP Executive Director Elizabeth Nelson told the Daily News that the show was originally written in 1895 by Oscar Wilde.
The show’s director, Keith Smith, said that the production was both a farce and a comedy.
During a Monday phone interview with the Daily News, Smith said that the show is “about two young gentlemen, essentially who have, in a sense, carried on double lives.”
The story follows the characters of Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing as they create alter egos in order to delicately remove themselves from social situations and pursue their romantic interests.
Smith has worked on many FCP projects as an actor and technical director, having directed shows such as Romeo and Juliet, Chicago and Much Ado About Nothing.
For Smith, the task of directing a radio play is a chance to work with new technical demands.
“This is a fun challenge,” Smith said. “It really brings together the challenge of theater direction also with the challenges of technical theater, just because to try and make it as vibrant as possible — as a live performance — when it’s actually on (the) radio, is challenging.”
Auditions were held earlier this month via the video conferencing platform Zoom.
“I didn’t feel like there were tremendous barriers,” Smith said about doing auditions virtually. “It might have even been convenient for people.”
During auditions, participants were asked to read from short excerpts from various scripts. When it was time for callback auditions, participants were asked to read scripts with each other.
“Some parts of it were actually more convenient, in a funny kind of way,” Smith said of the process.
Smith said that the “breakout room” feature of Zoom has been helpful for both auditions and rehearsals.
“Breakout rooms” give participants the ability to separate into private groups within a Zoom video call, Smith explained.
As an example, Smith said, this would allow actors who needed help with dialect to separately rehearse with a dialect coach within the Zoom call.
The cast list was announced by FCP last weekend, and includes 10 people — a smaller than typical number for an FCP production.
Arick Mattson will portray the character of Jack Worthing, while Colin Patton will take on the role of Algernon Moncrieff. Rebekka Esbjornson will act as Gwendolen Fairfax, Leila Kheiry will be Lady Bracknell, Andrea Short will portray Cecily Cardew, Clare Bennett will act in the role of Miss Prisim, Jeff Karlson will be The Rev. Chasuble, Stuart Whyte will portray the character Lane, and Sam Ortiz will act as Merriman.
While rehearsals with the small cast have been happening via Zoom, Smith said he might want to look into combining different online platforms as the production continues to evolve.
Smith said that one big difference between “The Importance of Being Earnest” and a typical FCP performance was the lack of audience participation that being on a radio affords, even though the show will be broadcast live.
“In traditional theater, the really important element is the audience,” Smith explained. “Live theater is not just an audience passively listening to something, but it is a meeting of people together experiencing it, having a common experience, that is part of the magic of the live theatre.”
Another difference between a typical production and Smith’s upcoming show is that the cast has been given less time to prepare.
“It’s a very shortened production schedule,” Smith said, explaining that the cast will have had only two weeks to prepare by time the show debuts.
Typically, a cast has at least five weeks to rehearse for a show.
While rehearsals are being held virtually, the cast will present the show as one group from the FCP offices.
Smith said that the small group will continue to follow social distancing measures, and will respond with safety in mind to any changes in state guidelines.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” will go on the air live at 7 p.m. on May 30 on KRBD.