Fort Smith Little Theater has quietly and deliberately waited since March 2020 -- and is waiting still -- to reopen.
Ordinarily the community theater would be embarking on its new season, which runs January to December, but not yet, say company spokeswomen Nancy Blochberger and Audra Sargent.
A "wonderful" lineup of comedy, mystery, drama and musical productions had been planned for 2021, they explain, but "uncertainty surrounding the pandemic continues to cloud those plans and even now, we don't have a clear timeline on when our next season can begin."
"We didn't want to announce a season and then risk canceling shows, so we have decided not to publish our next season schedule until we are confident we can safely reopen," says Blochberger, who is funding chairman and assists Sargent with publicity. "When that date occurs, we will excitedly announce upcoming productions, launch auditions, begin rehearsals and provide information about the sale of season passes. Until then, we remain poised and ready, with a flexible plan in place.
"Our decision to remain dark is not solely about compliance," she adds. "We also want to be sure we can provide an enjoyable experience for our volunteers and our patrons."
Organized in 1947, Fort Smith Little Theatre counts on the intimacy of its productions as one of the reasons patrons keep coming back. And nothing else can equal that, Blochberger and Sargent agree.
"While a video camera can offer entertainment, it can't fully replicate the shared experience that is such an important part of enjoying a live performance, especially one set in an intimate theater like ours," Blochberger says. "At this time, we plan to remain dark until we are confident we can offer the safe, enjoyable, live, 'in-person' theatrical experience our volunteers and patrons enjoy."
Fortunately, the all-volunteer company doesn't have salaries to pay, although there are ongoing costs to maintain the theater and run the nonprofit business.
"We have trimmed expenses as tightly as possible, and thankfully some of our patrons and business donors have continued making donations," Blochberger says. "We are especially grateful that most of our 2020 season pass patrons agreed to donate the value of performances canceled as a result of the pandemic. Their ticket value donations will greatly help us to weather this storm.
"While missing out on income is of course a concern, it is equally upsetting that performers, patrons, stagehands and everyone in between are missing the collective experience of live theater -- the facial expressions of actors, a quiet dramatic scene followed by ripples of laughter, dancing, singing and standing ovations," she adds. "At the end of this pandemic, the show will go on, and we will enjoy it all again. But just not right now."
Blochberger and Sargent are grateful for the support of the community throughout the history of FSLT and promise "the Fort Smith Little Theatre will remain a vibrant part of our community's arts and culture scene for many years to come."
Fort Smith Little Theatre
To support the nonprofit theater company while its stage remains dark, donations may be made online at fslt.org or mailed to FSLT, P.O. Box 3752, Fort Smith 72913. Also, gift certificates for future performances may be purchased at fslt.org.