The Show Must Go On: Cast Rehearses Online Despite Coronavirus

NORTH FORK, NY — The cast and crew of the North Fork Community Theatre’s new production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” are bringing new meaning to the words, “The show must go on.”

Faced with the social distancing guidelines directives put forth as the number of new coronavirus cases continues to escalate, some directors or casts might feel daunted, wondering how on earth they were going to manage read-throughs, vocal rehearsals, and learning dance routines — all while 6 feet apart.

Not Mary Motto Kalich, who’s directing the show. With her trademark can-do spirit, Motto Kalich has met the challenge head on, scheduling rehearsals with the cast online using the Zoom video conferencing platform.

And, during a recent dance rehearsal, it seemed as if the cast was adapting with ease.

The show, Motto Kalich said, features music director Dina Mondell, choreographers Alyssa Kelly and Kristen Greek, set designer Mike Hipp and set decorator Stephen Ness, and is slated to open May 14 at the North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

But in the age of coronavirus, nothing is certain. “We’re just taking it one day at a time,” Motto Kalich said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t control that but what we can do is move forward and basically start learning the show. We can be productive. So when we are able to come out again, we can hit the ground running and come up to speed really quickly.”

So far, the cast has been meeting online for three to five rehearsals a week, including dance, music and read-throughs.

Thankfully, she said, auditions were held in February and the cast had one rehearsal in person before coronavirus put the brakes on all non-essential gatherings.

About half the cast for the show is new to NFCT, Motto Kalich said. “You always have new people but that’s a good thing. Everyone is forming new relationships every time you start a show, with any cast. Even if you know them, you get to know them in different ways. That’s what being a cast is all about — coming together and working with people.”

Carrying on with rehearsals in the face of coronavirus takes on greater meaning than just prepping for a show, she said.

“We’re all doing what we can in this,” Motto Kalich said. “It’s very important. Not only to the arts, to music and dance, but also, it’s really important to the community. I always say that the NFCT has two distinctive parts — one is the arts, and one is bringing people together. And the feedback I have gotten from the cast is overwhelming. This is what they look forward to in their day.”

The rehearsals symbolize solidarity at a time when so many are isolated, she said.

“It’s the structure of having something in a world that’s gone crazy. To be working on something, to be working to build something, is very important to them,” Motto Kalich said.

One member of the cast, “a snowbird not back yet from Florida,” can even rehearse remotely, she said. “He said it feels so great to be part of the group,” Motto Kalich said.

When asked if she’d consider some online rehearsals after the social isolation is a memory, Motto Kalich said while it’s a great option: “This is nowhere near the same as doing it in person. You’re limited to what you can do. Not everyone can sing at the same time and for the dance rehearsals, you can’t line up in position. It’s not the same, but it’s wonderful for what it is. This is just a testament to the words, ‘The show must go on.'”

(Video courtesy Mary Motto Kalich)

Motto Kalich has tried to spark the same camaraderie a cast would feel during the normal rehearsal schedule. She organizes “hangouts” 15 minutes before practice starts. “We all get together and chat. It’s fun because if you were in rehearsal you would all probably break up into little groups. This way, we all get to see each other — and we get to see each other’s houses,” she laughed.

She has also held a T-shirt day, where cast members wore T-shirts from shows they’ve done.

Next week, Jim Borstelmann, who played the choreographer and “Franz” in the Broadway production of the show and has a long list of stellar credits, including “Chicago,” will join the cast online for a rehearsal and give advice to the cast, she said.

Motto Kalich is excited as she watches the rehearsals unfold. “The dance number ‘I Wanna Be a Producer’ was taught by choreographer Kristen Greek. The ‘showgirls’ learning the dance are very talented dancers — I cannot wait to see them onstage!” she said.

The memories of gathering together online, Motto Kalich said, will be priceless for a lifetime.

“Every minute that we spend together working on this is a beautiful moment. We do this because we enjoy it — we’re all volunteers. People say, ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ When we look back at this time, it’s going to be something we, this cast, went through together.”‘

Despite coronavirus, Motto Kalich said, “You have to enjoy your life. Be flexible. We can’t do anything else right now but bond, together, as best we can.”

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