Debbie Owen,
Board President

What a year it has been!

It has been a long time since I have written something for the StageWrite page, but in this Groundhog Day of a year, it’s been hard to find inspiration to write. The approaching anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic is bringing me to pick up the word processor again to share my thoughts with you.

In March 2020, we had our usual celebratory opening night party for Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. I was so proud that we were doing this show, which I first saw in London when I was thirteen. The set was stunning, the cast was spot-on, and the crew took our snow effects to a whole new level!

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, March 2020 Before theater operations shifted in response to COVID-19

As we headed to the second weekend of the show, though, the news about COVID-19 reaching pandemic level was getting ever more alarming. The board and staff at 4CP took extra precautions before Friday’s show, hoping to keep the show going while being smart and cautious. Unfortunately, that Friday night performance turned out to be the last time we had a live performance on the 4CP stage.

No one could have predicted last March how the next year would go. After hitting “pause” on the 48th season that we were so excited to announce, we eventually had to re-group and come up with a whole new approach. When our plans for an outdoor performance of All in the Timing fell through with the summer surge, we turned to Zoom along with the rest of the world.  Being able to put on Help Desk: A Stay-At-Home Play in the fall, our video offering of Home for the Holidays at Christmas, and Student Council v. Andi Johnson in February has been some consolation for those of us who miss our theater community, but we are all longing for the day when we can be back together in person. 

The cast and crew of Help Desk: A Stay-At-Home Play, Four County’s first Zoom production

Throughout the past 11 months, I have been incredibly impressed with the work of our Programming Committee, led by Gary Warwick-White and Laurie Lowrance, who faced the monumental challenge of coming up with production ideas in this environment. Aside from finding scripts that can be adapted to the virtual format, they have been tasked with making recommendations when we have no way of knowing what to expect in terms of budget, no idea which re-opening phase we will be in, or how to deal with brand new technical challenges. Multiple times they have had to set aside one set of plans and come up with something completely new, and they have come through every time!

Our Finance Committee has also been kept busy this year, adjusting our budget down to bare essentials and calculating what it would take to get through the months until we can have a live audience again. We have been fortunate to receive money through the PPP program, and have also been the welcome recipient of two stimulus grants from Orange County. These special funding sources have allowed us to keep paying our small staff and keep up with building maintenance.

Home For The Holidays, filmed on the Four County Mainstage with Paladin Media Group

As it became clear that the pandemic would last longer than 6 weeks, we created a new Audio-Visual Committee to research and advise on options for recording shows. We do not want our theater to turn into a TV studio, but it is clear that the new venues for livestreaming and video production are going to be around for a while. Some of the Orange County grant money was used to purchase equipment to enable these new endeavors.

The extended period of time with an empty building has provided a great opportunity for a dedicated group of volunteers to undertake a massive overhaul of our costume room. Thanks to Linda Zuby, Amy Goffman, and Kristen Heiderstadt (with much unnamed assistance) for managing the culling, sorting, and storing that was desperately needed! Our future costumers will have a much better time working through the closet!

Finally, as I reflect on how this year has taken so many strange turns, I am thankful for our small but dedicated staff who have reinvented so many parts of their jobs. 

+ Jennifer Phelps (Theater Office Manager) had barely started her job before the pandemic hit, but she has enthusiastically researched how to sell a show over Zoom and has worked on some great long-term organizing projects.

+ Nick Hagy (Technical Director) has been a regular presence in the otherwise-empty building to stay on top of occasional flooding and other building maintenance. 

+ Gary, in addition to the Programming Committee work mentioned above, has continued in his role of Production Manager to support every cast and crew, even when remote.

+ Edward Warwick-White (Marketing Director) has made sure that our social media presence is active and reflective of our times. At a time when we can only engage our community remotely, this work has been essential!

I miss these people, I miss seeing my fellow board members in person, and I miss our wonderful volunteers. I’m sure the re-opening process will happen gradually, and our first few live shows might not be quite what we are used to. But I have to hope that someday we will again be staging some wonderful Christmas musical or outdoor Shakespeare or Cellar drama, and enjoying the life-giving energy of a full house. 

Eagerly awaiting that day,