Like other businesses in town, the Theatre of the Republic in Conway has fallen on hard times due to the COVID-19 virus.
“It has taken us down to zero income,” said Executive Director Tim McGhee. “Of course, we’re nonprofit, so we really don’t have any large savings. We live show by show.”
McGhee is hoping that their very first Virtual Telethons, being held on May 2 and 9 at 7 p.m. live on their Facebook page, will help to keep his theatre alive.
While his performers are all volunteers, McGhee said he had to lay off everyone else including his tech crew, and hopes they will return when things improve.
“It’s sort of a very stressful situation. We have applied for all the particular loans and grants we can possibly do,” he said. “It’s going to be a struggle. I don’t know when we’re going to start back up.”
He said that he already had three more shows scheduled between now and June 1, and while he had already basically paid for all three, he’s had to cancel them.
McGhee said he’s been watching people on Facebook and on television sing from their homes, and as he sat and looked at the bare stage on the screen from his office computer, he knew what he wanted to do.
He plans to emcee the telethon, to tell everyone about what TOR does and how they can get involved, and now has more than 45 entertainers planning to come and entertain during the Facebook live show.
“The theatre is a sanctuary for all. We got ‘em all. We got ‘em tall, we got ‘em short, we got ‘em fat, we got ‘em skinny … that is a true reflection of the American community that we serve,” said Laura Flint, one of the performers participating in the telethon. There are certain organizations that need our support right now - they are totally down. Thank God for technology, or we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Flint said she usually serves as the comic relief in TOR productions, but for this occasion she is happy to have a chance to do something possibly a bit more serious, like singing a ballad or two.
Every entertainer has a time slot, McGhee said, and he’s asked all of the performers to invite their friends to get online and watch during their allotted stage time and maybe stick around for a few more acts, too.
Entertainment will come in all forms, from children to adults, comedy, singing, and more.
“We’ve got a big group of talented people in our family that have been performing here over the last 50 years,” McGhee said, hopeful. “I don’t know if it will work – I’ve never done one!”
He said he hopes that this different type of Facebook Live will encourage folks to use the Paypal button they plan to have available on the page to make donations to TOR to help, if they are able.
Sasia Manigo, who plans to sing for the Virtual Telethon, has a deep love and appreciation for TOR.
“As much as I did performing arts through college and high school, I really cut my teeth at TOR in 2008 and I just feel like it’s a part of me. It’s a family there,” Manigo said. “Doing anything that would be able to help keep the theatre running is an honor. It’s a chance to help and give back to the community.”
The performers on the docket are amazing, she said.
“I hope everyone will be as tuned in to Facebook Live for that, just as much as we binge watch TV shows,” Manigo said. “[TOR] is this great place that has brought people together from all walks of life.”
Ever the extrovert, McGhee said he can’t wait for the quarantine to be over because he misses being around people.
“I live, eat, sleep, and drink music and theatre, and all of a sudden you take that all away, no music, no people,” McGhee said.
All social distancing and sanitizing measures will be in place, he said, as the performers will be scheduled in 20-minute intervals, with one entrance and one separate exit.
“It’s going to be very safe. There’s one continuous hallway all the way to the stage, we’ll be spraying it down. They will wait in the hallway, perform, and leave out the front door,” he said.
It will be a bit different from the casual home performances seen on Facebook Live, he said, as the performers will be “dressed to the nines” and be on stage with lighting and special effects.
TOR’s Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/TORConway/
“Hopefully people will just want to watch and appreciate,” McGhee said.