Limelight Youth Theater prides itself on offering a supportive environment for those new to – and seasoned at – performing; placing it at the helm of the theater scene in Gilbert.
This year alone, it took home 12 AriZoni Awards and several National Youth Awards for presenting professional quality theater and educational experiences that are largely made possible because of its non-profit status.
But with its commitment to continued education in the arts and the passion of the young actors and their families, Limelight Artistic Director worries as she has watched COVID-19 wreak havoc on live performances in 2020, shifting the mindset and structure of youth theater.
“Right now, everyone is worried about the future of live theater,” England explained. “Venues are still not open. State mandates limit 50 people in any gathering. Singing in large groups or close proximity has been declared unsafe. All of these things add up to a fight to keep theater alive.
“We have had to come up with new ways to accomplish this, simply because we have to,” she continued. “It’s survival mode for many non-profits and local businesses.”
England said Limelight Theatre has “had to be creative with our staging and physical distancing of actors on stage.”
So it created a floor grid system that ensures kids will remain distanced.
She also said they’ve created “some amazing custom face shields to keep all of our performers safe in rehearsals and on stage.”
When England announced the ability to return to the stage in the first production of Limelight’s 2020-21 season, “Madagascar Jr.,” she introduced a system that has made performers and parents feel it is reasonable to send their children back to something they love.
The double-cast show is being kept to 15 performers for each cast and children must wear a face shield or mask during rehearsals.
The show will be much the same, with ornate face shields worn by characters and physical distancing throughout the performance.
The most notable change made for this performance is the outdoor venues it will be performed at – utilizing Freestone Park Amphitheater and Superstition Springs Amphitheater instead of typical indoor theater spaces.
This allows for audience separation as well as the added precaution of keeping everyone outdoors, with no use of shared spaces customary of a backstage area.
“Our mission has always been to provide quality performing arts experiences that build life skills and confidence to as many children as possible,” England said.
“This show has been double-cast to allow for more children to participate and also to allow for cast mentoring which has been so rewarding.
“Honestly, we didn’t originally plan for this show to be a part of our fall season. We licensed the show to begin rehearsals in March as a no-cut production for budding actors,” she added. “When COVID hit and we couldn’t do the show, MTI was gracious enough to extend the performance rights to a later date this year, so it made sense to start with the show as a large production.”
She also was excited when they realized that the animal cast and setting of the show “would be perfect for a park environment with a lake backdrop and would serve as a good way to hide the face shields within quirky animal costumes.”
“I’m so glad we hung onto this show because it really is a fun one,” she added.
England said that live theater is so desperately needed right now to maintain the social and mental well-being for those who are active in the arts.
Social isolation has kept kids from expressing themselves and creating magical experiences they had become so accustomed to, she explained.
“Doing outdoor theatre will give kids a chance to continue to do what they love without compromising their safety. It will also be great for our audiences who have been cooped up inside for so long - how fun it will be to get some fresh air and experience theatre in a new way,” England said. “The kids are adapting amazingly well.”
But challenges still remain – with the biggest being singing.
“We have experimented a lot in rehearsals with singing in masks versus face shields and learning how to work hard as a group to overcome these obstacles,” she said.
“Every obstacle that comes our way is just a new way to reinvent ourselves and the cast is so positive and on board with that philosophy.”
She also said Limelight has become a major support for young people who want to be involved in the theater arts.
“We’re giving them a safe social experience where they can do what they love: socialize with peers, build teamwork and more,” she said. “This will truly be a show to remember.”
The production is scheduled to begin Dec. 5 with multiple presentations throughout the month. Information: studio3arts.ticketleap.com.
For questions on how to become a part of the Limelight Youth Theater Family, visit: http://ll-pa.org/