OST waiting for cue ahead of 2021 season

Tuesday, February 2, 2021
The Okoboji Summer Theatre Association hopes to hold a waffle breakfast fundraiser on Memorial Day weekend at the OST campus. The association will not be holding its traditional omelet breakfast fundraiser during this year's University of Okoboji Winter Games. (File photo)

Staff at the Okoboji Summer Theatre need a little more time before striking up the overture to the 2021 performance season. The theatre staff typically announces the year's lineup during the University of Okoboji Winter Games after the OST Association's omelet breakfast fundraiser.

Not so this year.

COVID-19 dropped an early curtain on the theatre's season last year, and OST Executive Director Ruth Ann Burke said announcements about this year's productions will make a late entrance while the OST team keeps an eye on state and local health guidelines.

Michael and Ruth Ann Burke announced the Okoboji Summer Theatre lineup for the 2020 season during the 40th Annual University of Okoboji Winter Games. That April, OST announced none of that year's performances would be taking the stage due to public health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)

"We're hoping to be able to produce live theatre again," Burke said. "We're just waiting until probably late March or April to make that determination and see what kind of a season we can have."

Burke said the theatre association hopes to hold a waffle breakfast fundraiser Memorial Day weekend in the Okoboji Summer Theatre's new Weaver Commons. OST had high hopes for the 2020 performance season when the titles were announced on Jan. 25 that year, but it became the season that never was.

The COVID-19 pandemic reached Iowa after Burke announced the upcoming productions, and OST staff decided in April to call off the theatre's nine main-stage performances as well as four titles slated for the Boji Bantam Children's Theatre.

"A Grand Night for Singing" (Photo submitted)

"We heard a lot of feedback from folks that they really did miss us," Burke said. "It was the first time we hadn't been there in 62 years."

She said many of theatre supporters answered the call for monetary support in a difficult season. A number of sponsors and donors asked that the theatre keep the funds that had already been given to support the 2020 season, according to Burke.

"As most nonprofits, we definitely lost revenue by not being able to produce, but our sponsors, donors and season ticket holders held in there with us, which we are quite thankful for," Burke said. "We're entering that cycle again and asking people to be patient."

"Leaving Iowa" (Photo submitted)

She said staff were able to visit the OST campus for a few weeks over the summer and do some upkeep to the facilities. Donors old and new are encouraged to contact the theatre at boxoffice@okobojisummertheatre.org to provide updated contact information and stay informed of the theatre's plans on social media.

The Okoboji Summer Theatre is owned and operated by Stephens College, and last year's cancellations meant some of the college's student performers who had expected on-stage experience before graduating didn't make it to the Okoboji playhouse. Burke said about half of the students hoping to perform at OST chose to wait until the 2021 season, but the other half took on independent theatre projects in order to graduate.

"They created solo shows, so they really got a unique experience working one on one with a director and creating a one-person show, and that turned out to be an extraordinary experience for those students who chose that," Burke said. "We came up with that project quickly so those students could stay on track with their degree plan, but nothing replaces the experience of the Okoboji Summer Theatre."

"Maybe Baby, It's You" (Photo submitted)

Last year's roster of performances included well-known titles like "Grease," "Terms of Endearment" and "The Music Man." Stephen Brotebeck had agreed to once again serve as OST's artistic director that year, and Burke said Brotebeck has agreed to return for 2021 as well. He and the rest of the OST team are a nimble-minded bunch, according to Burke, and they are eager to move forward with the season in whatever way they can possibly using last year's performance lineup as a template.

"We were so excited to produce that season, so I think we'll take a close look at it and see how much of that we might be able to preserve," Burke said, noting some performance rights may have become unavailable since last season.

Burke said state and local health guidelines will be a major factor when it comes time for the theatre to make its decisions about the 2021 season. Local health officials previously estimated COVID-19 vaccinations may be available to the general public by late spring or early summer. OST's season typically kicks off in mid-June, and Burke pointed out various aspects of the pandemic response could change ahead of the first curtain call.

"That's why I think we want to wait as long as possible into the spring to make those determinations," Burke said. "The longer we wait, the more possible it is that we would be able to have a diminished audience capacity or maybe a full audience capacity. As the weeks and months go by, we're hoping that that increases our chances to be able to produce live theatre once again."

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