Despite adhering to COVID-19 protocols and limiting rehearsals indoors, San Benito Stage Company announced on Oct. 25 that because of a COVID-19 exposure among the Beauty and the Beast Jr. cast, it was canceling the Oct. 29-31 performances.
“Ideally, if there are no further positive cases, we will be able to perform as scheduled the weekend of Nov. 5-6,” the Stage Company statement says, adding that it opted to cancel the performances because a large part of the cast is too young to be vaccinated. It also states the exposure was tracked to the actor’s school.
Nonetheless, Anne Hall, San Benito Stage Company Board of Directors president said the focus should be on how much work and time the production team and cast invested in putting the show together. The process included assembling a production team, and conducting auditions, casting and rehearsals, all while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.
In February, many businesses were closed as the county was still in the first tier of the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy. It was also a time when vaccines were rolling out in phases with high-risk groups receiving priority.
Against that backdrop, San Benito Stage Company began casting for its Beauty and the Beast Jr. in February, optimistic that it would be able to perform the play this fall, unlike in 2020 when they had to cancel their performances.
“When the show was first shut down in March of 2020 we kept things going,” co-producer Melissa Schilling said. “We started with get-togethers on Zoom. It was helping the kids with really lifting their spirits. They would put on dance videos.”
Despite all the restrictions at the time, the cast, made up of 30 children ages 6-13, pushed through and premiered their show on Oct. 22 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Hollister.
“We had a great opening weekend and we’re hoping to have a great closing weekend,” said Anne Hall. “It’s unfortunate we’ve had to have a pause but we do want to keep everybody safe. The kids have enjoyed doing it and it gives them something to do in a year where they have been so limited on what they can do.”
Putting on a show is difficult enough under ordinary circumstances, but with the COVID-19 guidelines, some cast members opted to not return this year. In addition, the production team had to figure out how to keep the face masks required for rehearsals and performances from making voices and facial expressions unintelligible.
“We were able to focus on the kids learning how to act more with using their eyes and body movements and really showing expression that way,” Director Adrienne Summers said.
Abbey Alford, who plays Belle, said it was a big transition for her to move from facial expressions to body expressions.
“Learning to act with your eyes is a big transition,” she said. “As I would have smiled or frowned or anything like that, now I had to learn how to do it with my eyes.”
This is Alford’s seventh year performing in a Stage Company play.
Thankfully, working with masks didn’t faze the cast.
“The masks did not dim their spirit, their excitement at all,” said board member Darla Hernandez. “These kids were so excited and so ready to be back on stage.”
Fellow board member Shanon Romiti said despite all the challenges putting the show together and the recent cancellation, she hopes the kids can showcase their talents on Nov. 5-6.
“The resilience of the children and the cast, they didn’t let anything get in the way, They’re energy is amazing. You’d never know, backstage especially, that this is any different of a show. They goofed the same, they played the same, they sing the same, they dance the same. They are really pretty amazing.”
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