The Genesius Guild was wearing masks in performance for decades before it was fashionable or medically recommended.
After it had to cancel its 2020 summer season at Rock Island’s Lincoln Park Classic Theatre due to Covid, Genesius will be back this summer, with three scaled-back productions in June and July, including an ancient Greek tragedy, in masks, to close the abbreviated season – ensuring it will all be safe for cast, crew, and audiences.
The 2021 season will consist of:
- William Shakespeare’s comedy “Measure for Measure,” adapted and abridged by Kevin Rich, in June.
-“Shakespeare’s Life in His Words,” by Don Wooten,
- and Euripides’ “Hippolytus” in July.
Genesius Executive Director Doug Tschopp says adjustments were made to ensure audience and participant safety, no matter what happens with vaccine distribution and Covid variants. The season will start in mid-June, rather than the start of June, to give more time for vaccine distribution and allow crews a longer stage construction schedule.
Unlike the typical 8 p.m. weekend start, the new shows will start at 7 p.m. and will be 90 minutes or less. This will remove need for stage lighting, significantly reducing the crew's setup and teardown time.
Tschopp says audience capacity will be smaller – there will be fewer available seats in the park, with social distancing between groups of seats, following CDC guidance, and audience members will be required to wear masks if that is still CDC guidance. All shows, will have small casts so they can maintain social distancing on stage as well as off stage, and no concessions will be sold.
“I mean you just have to do something, right? We did what we could last year, putting up recordings of some past plays and doing some audio stuff. When we looked at it, we're trying to do it super safe.”
Since Don Wooten founded Genesius Guild over 60 years ago, it’s been devoted to productions unusual for a community theater -- opera in English, Greek tragedy in mask, Shakespearean comedies and tragedies, Greek comedy in contemporary re-writes, and professional ballet.
The first production was in summer 1957, with Sophocles’ “Antigone.” That play is one Wooten discussed in the new Genesius podcast, available at https://anchor.fm/genesius-guild.
Schopp says the middle Genesius show this summer will be an informal “reader’s theater” format, not in costume. Don Wooten’s “Shakespeare’s Life in His Words” has never been done on the Genesius stage before, but over the years, has been read at area libraries – usually in April, in honor of the Bard’s birthday.
“Every few years in April, like a library or somebody like that will be looking to do something for Shakespeare's birthday. And that's what I think Don wrote it for and it's wonderful. I've seen it performed and for a library, you get 15, 20 people to show up. For a long time, I thought that would be an interesting thing to put on the stage, when you needed something a little smaller. Well, that's certainly this year and it's super interesting.”
It combines facts about Shakespeare’s life, with explanations of how they relate to topics and scenes in his plays. He says excerpts from plays are featured as well, and it talks about how Shakespeare affected our modern-day language today. It will be up to the director if the narrator and cast members get to use their scripts on stage.
“When we’ve done reader's theater in the past, even like ‘Don Juan in Hell,’ or things like that, a lot of times we really pushed to still memorize as much of it as you can.”
The last production will be the ancient Greek tragedy, “Hippolytus,” from 428 BCE, which was part of a trilogy by Euripides. It’s only about 90 minutes long, and Genesius will perform it in their iconic large masks. Tschopp says it's only been done once before, in the ‘80s.
“It’s been a long time since we've done that play and one of our members, a Greek scholar, really wanted us to do that play. He thought it was timely right now. Yeah, if you can keep the cast size down and we can still put it on, so that one will be really a full performance of that play.”
Tschopp says Genesius would like to continue with its podcasting format in the future, even post-pandemic, since it gives audiences who can’t make it to Lincoln Park – especially if they live far away – a way to connect with the plays and the organization.
For more information, visit www.genesius.org.