MRT Reopens with Two Shows this Spring
New Schedules due to the Global Pandemic
LOWELL, MA, March 11, 2021 – With safety as a paramount goal – plus a healthy dose of gratitude and cautious optimism – Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) will return with two new productions – on film – this spring: Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood, based on a series of interviews after Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO, and Rebecca Gilman’s A Woman of the World, an evening with the adventurous woman who introduced Emily Dickinson to America.
The productions will include all of the remarkable theatrical effects audiences expect from MRT – top-notch acting, sets, costumes, and lighting, all filmed with multiple cameras before an extensive editing process. The preparation for producing these two shows on film has involved months of innovative thinking, union negotiations, and a 37-page safety plan, which incorporates the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Until the Flood and A Woman of the World are generously sponsored by Enterprise Bank.
Courtney Sale, the Nancy L. Donahue Artistic Director, said, “We are excited to bring two dynamic stories into the homes of our audiences. These productions will be conceived, rehearsed, and built like we would any other MRT production. Our film crew's charge is to truly capture live performance on film; making the viewer feel as close as possible to the MRT experience. We are incredibly grateful to stay on mission in these chaotic times and safely invite our artists and artisans back to work. Theatre is always a collaborative art however, producing in Covid times is a team effort like none other!”
The video of Until the Flood will play April 17 to May 2 with A Woman of the World following from May 15-30. Current subscribers will automatically receive an email link for viewing. The previously announced productions of Wild Horses and Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End will be presented at a later date. Sale hopes to announce the remainder of the 2021-22 Season in May. For further information, visit www.mrt.org.
The professional theatre’s most recent production in front of an audience, Nina Simone: Four Women, closed on March 9, 2020, and the company suspended most operations two weeks later. Over the last year, MRT has been successful in securing state and federal funds to keep the 42-year-old company afloat. Last summer the theatre launched a virtual version of its acclaimed MRT Young Company; this past fall, a reading series of new plays by Vichet Chum, Trista Baldwin, and Steven Dietz; and a video production of Fannie Lou Hamer: Speak On It!, a tribute to the civil rights activist.
However, as with other non-profit arts organizations, funding is precarious, and the dates for seating an audience in a traditional space are still months away. The company is grateful for an increase in donations over the past few months and will launch a major fundraising initiative in a few weeks.
Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas said, “This year has been incredibly challenging, and it has forced us to think creatively about the challenges faced by MRT and many other theatres. We’ve spent this time devising new approaches to creating new plays from staffing to community building to commissioning new plays, and we can’t wait to share more with you.
“We are grateful to the state and federal government, our Trustees and donors for the generous support that has carried us through this unprecedented year. We’re looking at a new set of challenges as we cautiously begin producing and hope that our community will continue to support live theatre in Lowell,” she said.
In addition, the last few months have entailed lengthy union negotiations to ensure that all employees – actors, designers, playwrights, directors, technicians, and staff – return to the safest environment possible. MRT has worked diligently with state and federal officials, as well as the four major theatrical unions, to determine the most secure way to reopen for rehearsals and the filmed stage productions. After five rounds of revisions, MRT and Actors Equity recently agreed to the terms of a 37-page safety plan.
“Our first priority is the safety of our staff, artists, volunteers, and audience. We’ve looked carefully at the ways in which film, television, and live theatre have safely reopened and used that information to create a safe workplace,” said Butkas. “We did not see a way to safely reopen to the general public, but we’re looking forward to gathering in person in the fall.”
Actors and all other personnel will be tested before arriving in Lowell for rehearsal. They will continue to be tested three times a week. The theatre recently hired an Infection Control Specialist, Mike Hamer, to ensure all safety protocols are followed, including the proper use of PPE, sanitizer stations, restricted work areas, and personal facilities. Production Manager Lee Viliesis has created a map of assigned pathways, entrances and exits, and socially distanced positions for artists, technicians, and staff to use inside the theatre.
For Until the Flood, directed by Timothy Douglas, Orlandersmith interviewed a wide cross section of residents to create eight composite characters for her play, which reflects the aftermath of the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Gilman’s A Woman of the World features Mabel Loomis Todd, the original editor of the poems of Emily Dickinson, and an outspoken, controversial figure in her own right. Sale will direct.
Both playwrights are Pulitzer Prize finalists: Orlandersmith for Yellowman and Gilman for The Glory of Living.
MRT will offer two pricing options for ticket buyers for these two video-only productions: a regular Video on Demand package, which includes an introductory video and the play at an “early bird” rate of $19 per household (regular rate $29) and a Video on Demand Ultimate package, which includes the introductory video, the play, and interviews with the artists at the “early bird” rate of $29 per household (regular rate $39).
To reserve, visit www.mrt.org, or for further information, call the Enterprise Bank Box Office at 978-654-4678.
MERRIMACK REPERTORY THEATRE www.mrt.org
Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) will celebrates 42 years this season as the Merrimack Valley’s professional theatre. With a steadfast commitment to new plays, MRT annually produces seven works, including several premieres, in the 279-seat Nancy L. Donahue Theatre at Liberty Hall.
Under the leadership of the Nancy L. Donahue Artistic Director Courtney Sale and Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas, MRT strives to fulfill its mission to “create remarkable new and contemporary plays that bring joy to our art form while engaging, entertaining and enriching our community.” The non-profit company guarantees that shows are accessible to audiences of all incomes; partners with businesses and other non-profits to fully engage the community; and contributes to the economic vitality of Lowell by attracting diverse audiences from throughout the region.
Recent acclaimed productions include The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley and Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, the two bestselling productions in MRT’s history; former Artistic Director Sean Daniels’ autobiographical play, The White Chip, which played Off-Broadway this past October; I and You (Off-Broadway transfer) and Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in America; Women in Jeopardy! and the world premiere of Slow Food by Wendy MacLeod; KNYUM by Cambodian playwright and actor Vichet Chum; and The Lion, singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s award-winning musical memoir, which launched its national tour from MRT in August 2015, following critically acclaimed runs in New York and London.
PHOTO (l-r) Ariel Richardson, Dionne Addai, Deanna Reed-Foster, Daniel Riley in Nina Simone: Four Women. Photo by Meg Moore.