Reporting and writing Allyson Smith
This month, Magical Theatre Company of Barberton will debut a new show called “Tales on The Trails” at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center.
Performances will take place over the course of two days, Oct. 10 and 11, and take audience members on a journey through the park, showing them excerpts from “the Scottish Play” — better known as Shakespeare’s Macbeth — plus Johnny Appleseed and other stories.
While we don’t see many theater companies performing in this manner, this isn’t the first time Magical Theatre Company has done a show like this. The theatre company was able to pull this idea out of their back pocket because they used to run a summer camp that put on similar performances.
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They collaborated with the Environmental Education Center for 12 years to put on a summer camp where kids would perform for their parents at the end of the week. According to Holly Barkdoll, the co-producing director of Magical Theatre Company, all the scenes audience members will watch or have watched at the summer camp take place outdoors, making them the perfect excerpts for these performances.
“I loved that camp. And I said every year, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do this with our professional adult actors too?’ And it never seemed to be the right time — but this is the perfect time for that,” Holly says.
While it was a stroke of luck to have a blueprint for outdoor performances, Holly notes that learning to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions has not been easy whatsoever.
“It has been months of reinventing ourselves. I feel like we’re on Plan W,” she says.
During the spring, Magical Theatre Company was running Kids Scripts, a program where kids from local schools write plays for the theater company to adapt to the stage and perform. However, schools were shut down as they were getting through the first group of plays. They came up with a simple enough solution: record the rest of the plays and send them to the schools.
“We all thought that shutdown was going to be much shorter and schools would go back in session. We said, ‘great, in a perfect world we’ll go to the second leg schools and perform live.’ Well, that didn’t happen,” Holly says.
They reached out to the local schools, informed them of the decision, and continued to record the rest of the plays to send to the kids.
Once the stay-at-home order was lifted, the company continued to film videos, working with only one actor a day to keep everyone safe. Recording finished in August, but they are still being edited. Holly ensures that schools will receive their videos.
“That was just a technical nightmare, an emotional nightmare, a financial nightmare.”
Despite losing their matinee program, Kids Scripts, and touring capabilities, Magical Theatre Company has been able to continue some programs, like summer camps. Virtually, of course. Holly says they had a superhero camp, a wizard camp, and a musical theater camp, all on Zoom.
“The musical theater show was called, “The Show Must Go Online,” and that’s how we felt, the show must go on… line!” Holly says.
While the camp did not have the same capacity as camps in the past — 19 kids, as opposed to 70 to 80 kids — Holly says she is grateful for the parents and kids that participated.
“You can take risks, but you can’t make mistakes, you know?” Holly says. “It was just so important to us to be able to get back to doing some live performing and to be able to give actors some work. It’s small, but to be able to give them the opportunity to work and be paid to work, it’s important to us and we want to do it the right way so we can continue to look for new ways to perform and make sure everybody is safe.”
Magical Theatre Company also recently announced a new project: The Magical Santa Experience. This will let kids still feel the magic of Christmas, even though they probably can’t go see Santa or his elves this year. Kids will get an invitation to have a private Zoom session with Santa and receive a letter afterwards thanking them for the conversation.
Despite uncertainty and ever-changing regulations, Holly and the theatre company remain optimistic about the future.
“People and theater have survived plagues, other pandemics, financial woes. We have to. We have to come back,” she says.
Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and taking months to read a single book.
Photos: Used with permission from Holly Barkdoll.