March 17, 2020
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The show must go on, so Penobscot Theatre will livestream play about opioid crisis

Courtesy of Magnus Stark
Courtesy of Magnus Stark
Val Crowley (left, Amy Roeder) talks with Fire Chief Chris Dove (Heather Astbury-Libby) about why she used drugs in Penobscot Theatre Company's production of "Safety Net." Performances will be live streamed on the internet Wednesday through Sunday.

The Penobscot Theatre Company, which last week announced it would cancel its run of “Safety Net,” has found a way for the show to go on.

The production about the opioid epidemic will be performed at the Bangor Opera House without an audience and will be livestreamed to ticket holders over the internet Wednesday through Saturday. Ticket holders will be emailed a password so they can log in and watch the performance.

“This allows the experience to be as close to a live theater experience as possible,” Bari Newport, the theater company’s producing artistic director, said Monday. “We’ve never done this before. This is all new to us.”

The Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the National Theatre in London regularly broadcast live performances to theaters around the world but with an audience in attendance. The Penobscot Theatre Company may be the first theater company in Maine to livestream performances. Other theater companies in Maine have canceled or postponed performances in reaction to the coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.

“Safety Net,” written by Daryl Lisa Fazio, tells the story of a small Alabama town’s first female fire captain and how the opioid epidemic affects her, her mother and an old school friend. It has been produced once, last year in Atlanta.

After announcing the cancellation last week, Newport said she and her production team decided that the subject matter was too important and the cast and crew had worked too hard for no one to be able to see the show.

“Everyone worked so hard on this show and it was so disheartening to see it close before it opened that this seemed to be the best solution,” she said.

The three actresses in the show aren’t worried about performing to an empty house.

“This is not obviously what we want to be doing, but it is what we have to be doing,” said Julie Arnold Lisnet, who plays Xenia Dove, a woman with chronic back pain whose son died of a drug overdose. “This is a very tight and intimate script. When we go out there, it’s just about us. It does take an even bigger effort without an audience.”

Heather Astbury-Libby, who plays Fire Chief Chris Dove, Xenia’s daughter, agreed.

“I never really have cared if there was one person or 1,000 people in the audience,” Astbury-Libby, who most often has performed in musicals, said Monday. “I forget there is an audience there. I just kind of get lost in the show, but this is the first show I’ve done where I don’t have to wear 6-inch heels, a wig and false eyelashes.”

Newport had scheduled a pre- and post show talkback with local experts about how the opioid epidemic crisis has affected Greater Bangor. Those had to be scrapped when the decision was made to livestream the production.

“This is a very important show with a very important message and it’s so timely,” Lisnet said. “It’s ironic that one epidemic knocked another epidemic out of circulation. But there’s an old saying that the show must go on, even in a pandemic.”

“Safety Net” originally was scheduled to run through March 29.

The theater company, meanwhile, canceled its Dramatic Academy production of “The Snow Queen,” scheduled for March 20 through March 22. It also has postponed the one-woman show “Tell Me on a Sunday” set for April 3-5.

For ticket information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscotheatre.org.

 


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