You’d think there would be a small amount of pressure involved in being the only theater company in Door County to be presenting live, in-person productions this summer, but Rogue Theater’s Stuart Champeau is more excited than nervous.
“We were all losing our minds not being able to do shows!” he said. “When we told our troupe about continuing the summer season in person, everyone was immediately on board.”
Earlier this summer, Rogue Theater’s co-artistic directors, Stuart Champeau and Lola DeVillers, were attending a drive-in service at Sturgeon Bay’s Prince of Peace Lutheran Church when inspiration struck: If there are drive-in movies and drive-in church services, why not try drive-in theater?
In Rogue Theater’s drive-in format – complete with actors’ microphones plugged into the church’s radio frequency and cars parked facing the stage – the actors and audience will be able to remain at safe distances from each other while still enjoying the experience of live theater.
After getting the go-ahead from Prince of Peace Pastor James Gomez, Champeau and DeVillers began brainstorming ways to adapt their season to a drive-in format in the church parking lot so that attendees could enjoy the show from their vehicles.
This transition required surmounting certain challenges, most of them technical. For one, there was no way to access theater lighting, so all shows will take place during daylight hours. And, the fact that up to eight actors will need to wear microphones means more time and attention spent on sound checks and troubleshooting.
Creating a socially distanced backstage area was another hurdle. Champeau said the plan is to make a large backstage area, delineated by 20 feet of curtain, to keep actors safe between their scenes.
Although Rogue will not be able to use stage sets as it typically does, Champeau isn’t worried about the audience becoming confused. In fact, for him, one of the central objectives of live theater is to convince the audience to believe the scene, no matter what the surroundings are.
“Theater is all about figuring out how to make this initially ‘nothing space’ into someone’s home or park or school or wherever your scene takes place,” Champeau said. “Good acting involves acting in such a way that lets your audience really visualize where you are. That’s the illusion of theater.”
This summer, Rogue is keeping the content of its shows especially lighthearted. Although the company usually performs one or two dramas during the summer season, Champeau and DeVillers felt that audiences need comedy now more than ever.
One of the shows slated for the summer, Post-Its, is a two-person show about a husband and wife who leaves Post-it notes for each other throughout their marriage. One of the actors lives in Chicago, and one lives in Sturgeon Bay, so rehearsals have been conducted by videoconference.
Like Post-Its, the other scheduled shows are two-person or individual, or they’re performed in such a way that the actors can be socially distant even while onstage.
Despite changes and challenges, Rogue Theater is eager to provide Door County with live, drive-in theater.
“We just love doing what we do,” Champeau said, “and we love getting people together who enjoy theater as much as we do.”
Rogue Theater’s summer season will run on weekends during July and August. It will begin with Great Americans on July 4 and July 5, both at 6 pm, in the back parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 1756 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay.
Great Americans is a collection of patriotic speeches, quotations, songs and poems depicting inspiring Americans who have changed history and helped to make America the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Tickets cost $10 per adult, $5 per student or $30 per car. All shows are weather permitting. A portion of all summer proceeds will go to local food pantries. Visit Rogue Theater on Facebook to learn more.