Island Theatre forced to get creative to present productions

The organization’s last live performance was in 2019

Since March’s COVID outbreak, many arts and entertainment organizations have been forced to be creative to provide productions in a safe manner.

At Island Theatre, which caters to mature audiences, a new approach has been implemented, especially given the rising rates of the coronavirus that make the possibility of live performances bleak in the near future.

“This has propelled us into experimenting and discover new techniques and new ideas about how to keep people interested in theater; how to make theater interesting, productive, engaging,” said Steve Stolee, founding member of Island Theatre. “Zoom…provides a venue and I think we just have to be more and more creative about how to make use of that. We’re constantly having to rethink everything we’ve been doing for years and years and consider new ways of approaching” it.

Its new direction will include making movies for YouTube.

The last live performance that Island Theatre held was late in 2019 when it held its final 10-minute Play Festival of the year. In anticipation of the same event in 2020, IT took submissions before the pandemic “collapsed everything,” Stolee said. The theatre decided to hold over all the plays that were scheduled in the spring of 2020 until 2021 – a tentative date that seems more skeptical as COVID-19 rates continue to rise.

“We now see that is, at best, unlikely,” Stolee said. “Most of us feel like we’re not going to be ready for in-person performances next summer. (A vaccine) has to be produced and distributed, and then we have to depend on people taking it enough so that people will feel safe to come out and join crowds in a theater. It doesn’t seem very practical right now. I think we’re all being a little more cautious (about) what our expectations are.”

To combat the disappointment of delaying in-person events even further, IT looked to Zoom — like many performing arts groups — to provide a starting point for its creative endeavors.

In May, IT did a Zoom production with about 20 characters and followed up with a retrospective video presentation of 10-minute Play Festival entries dating back to 2012. In June, the theatre produced a virtual play that would have been part of the Island Theatre at the Library series, a frequent event at the Bainbridge Public Library in non-COVID times.

Now, the theatre has turned its attention to producing some original plays by a playwriting group that will be part of February’s Island Theatre at the Library series, which will be presented on YouTube as actual films.

“We’ve taken it a step further,” Stolee said. “They’ll be actual movies; we set it all up with a movie crew.”

Stolee said he’s also considering presenting the August 2021 10-minute Play Festivals as films. Regarding COVID protocols for rehearsals and filming, Stolee said it has all been done with those in mind.

“There were no in-person rehearsals; it was all done on Zoom,” he said. “If we did meet, which did happen occasionally, it was all done with masks and distancing outdoors. We can be creative and overcome these things if we put our heads together and everybody feels positive about what we can do.”

As a nonprofit organization, Island Theatre relies on community support for sustainability and exposure, which has been tough to come by given the financial troubles caused by the pandemic.

“People are still interested in what we’re doing,” Stolee said. “Of course donations are way down. It’s no surprise to see that all dwindling. It will come back, I’m confident. People are looking at the internet to provide the source for their entertainment right now in ways that they hadn’t before.

“The live theatre that we’re missing is happening in our real lives,” he continued. “We’re dealing with it like classic characters.”

About Island Theatre

Often referred to as “The Best Damn Theatre Company in the World,” Island Theatre was originally founded in 1994, providing high-quality theatre for mature audiences.

“It is pretty diverse,” Stolee said of the types of performances. “We steer clear of family oriented things. (We do) things that are maybe a little more provocative. It’s a pretty broad spectrum of things that keep us going. We want people to walk away with some ideas and have been entertained in a way that provokes them intellectually. Certainly, that’s arguably the goal of all art, to shake you up a little bit.”

The organization is run by volunteers and does not provide a permanent space for performances. Productions are typically free, with some exceptions, and can be seen at venues like Bainbridge Performing Arts, Bainbridge Public Library, Rolling Bay Hall and from your home.