Play that dealt with the story of a pandemic canceled by a pandemic
VANCOUVER — They all mustered up their courage and auditioned. All 66 of them. Then many were cast in their production. They worked and rehearsed and memorized and sang and danced for weeks. They moved into the theater. They ran through it for the last time. Opening day arrived, but so did some bad news.
Journey Theater’s production of “The Secret Garden” should have opened to packed houses this past weekend, but for the growing outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The irony lies in the show’s story, which actually takes place during the height of a Cholera outbreak of 1896.
The show that dealt with the pain and difficulty of a pandemic has now been indefinitely postponed due to an all too real pandemic. “The Secret Garden” is a musical adaptation of the classic story, in which Mary Lennox discovers a magical garden and hope in the face of loss and adversity.
“All week during dress rehearsal, we’re like, ‘Okay, it’s day by day,’ you know, and we kind of like step in faith and say, ‘We’re going to give it our best,’” said Show Director Beka Hardt. “I think it was like 11 a.m. they pulled the plug. And I remember it was like, for me the parallel story was, yes, I’m disappointed, but I have responsibility to the kids, and to maybe like, somehow be with them in this disappointment.”
With Gov. Jay Inslee enacting an executive order this week banning gatherings of 50 or more and increasing restrictions on smaller gatherings, Journey made the decision to postpone the performance. However, just before things closed own, the student cast did have one very special audience.
Last week, during what is known as Dress Week, the cast did their final dress rehearsal performance for a special audience of nine elderly people, who would never have been able to see the show even if it hadn’t been canceled.
“We were really grateful for that,” Hardt said. “We ended up having a gathering at my house. And I have to tell you, I just looked out at a sea of like, 70 crying faces. But I remember thinking, and this is the parallel part of the story, ‘Gosh, as adults, we have a responsibility to these kids because they are facing so much disappointment in the season.’”
“The Secret Garden” was Journey Theater’s East Vancouver show for the Winter 2020 season. Of the company’s three locations, only two suffered cancelations due to COVID-19; with “Shrek the Musical” losing its second weekend of shows.
“It’s certainly been heartbreaking to see the opportunities lost or at least postponed,” said Journey Theater’s Executive Director Stephen Pick. “And for kids and families and, of course, the patrons that we’re all primed and ready to come to see them do their thing.”
Journey Theater is a nonprofit and faith-based youth theater organization which has been producing professional quality shows for close to 20 years. They survive largely off of ticket sales, class tuitions and donations. Much like many small business owners facing mandated closures to maintain social distancing, Journey is looking to the future with mixed expectations.
With many projections of the COVID-19 outbreak spanning the next three to seven months, Journey is looking at many scenarios, including rescheduled future performances of “The Secret Garden” and the more likely extended downtime of cancelling Spring and Summer programming.
“The hard part will come in the coming days and weeks even as we’ve already started,” Pick said. “With looking at trying to project out to the future for what the programming will look like in spring and beyond and trying to make decisions with, again, as I said information that can change at a moment’s notice.”
In spite of unprecedented disappointment and widespread closures, Hardt, her artistic team and her cast have a resounding message for their patrons, fellow thespians and their community: hope is better than fear.
“I love the idea that the show started with cholera … kind of like the world outlook. If I look at the whole picture, it’s very overwhelming,” Hardt said. “But if I just followed the one single storyline of the kid who’s actually experiencing the pain of cholera, you know, I can see that within that one storyline, then you can kind of conquer fears and you can conquer conquer things, if you look at it on a daily basis, and in the moment and the smaller vision of it for me to take responsibility.”
“I’ve been so encouraged by the kids believing and hoping still, I really have. I think I’ve been so encouraged by them.”
Both Pick and Hardt shared about the goodness of many patrons in not asking for refunds, but simply donating the money to Journey. Pick said he is hopeful the organization will weather the storm of coronavirus well, but also explained how financial deficits will need large contributors to right the ship.
“The journey community and the wider community that’s connected, we just appreciate people’s support and words of encouragement,” Pick said. “It’s so cool to be a part of the community. You just see the kids and families pretty undaunted, and finding other ways to continue to be in community.”
“One kid just said, ‘I just had so much fun doing it that I just want this to go on,’” Hardt said. “They’re praying a lot. Have hope, you know, and not false hope, but like maybe look at life a little more daily and be like, ‘Today, we might still have a show.’”