At OCT, the show must go on … and will

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Posted September 18, 2020 | By James Blevins, Correspondent | Photos courtesy of Ocala Civic Theatre

For local community theaters across the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has truly put the old stage phrase “the show must go on” to the ultimate test.

In fact, and proven time after time in 2020, the show can often be postponed, rescheduled or outright cancelled, sometimes indefinitely, depending on the virus’ impact where theatergoers live.

The Ocala Civic Theatre — first established as The Marion Players in 1950 and located in its current building on East Silver Springs Boulevard since 1980 — was forced to shut down on March 13, cancelling many programs and several productions in various stages of development, including a show in its final week of a four-week run.

But six months later, after navigating the many ups and downs of a uniquely challenging summer, the community theater is finally opening its doors again to the public. Its first post-pandemic production, Pump Boys and Dinettes, is set to open on Sept. 24 and run through to Oct. 25.

Artistic Director Katrina Ploof acknowledges that getting to this grand reopening was no easy feat. The community theater was forced to cut its operating budget down to about 20 percent of what it normally has on hand for a full season of shows. There was also the added challenge of planning and producing a slate of entertainment that brought audiences back to the theater while keeping them — along with everyone on and behind stage – properly socially-distanced.

All of this in only 10 days.

“If you’re good at theater,” explained Ploof, “then you’re really good in a crisis. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to do what’s right for the story. So, this whole thing was just a bigger story. What is the Ocala Civic Theatre’s story going to be during the pandemic?”

The role the OCT is playing in the story of community theaters in the United States amidst the COVID crisis is as one of its leaders. According to chairwoman of the OCT board, Laurie Zink, the theater is one of only 34 community theaters in the whole country — and one of only two active community theaters in all of Florida, according to Ploof — that are doing any form of programming in September.

“We’ll be at way less than half-capacity,” admits Zink. “But we want everyone to feel comfortable. You’re in, you’re out. You’re entertained and you go home safe.”

Pump Boys and Dinettes, the OCT’s newest show, is a folksy, country musical that first debuted on Broadway in 1982. Ploof chose the play for its upbeat, simple story. She didn’t wish for audiences to be forced to think too hard about anything, bearing in mind that 2020 has already required more than its fair share of thinking for a typical calendar year.

“You’re going to leave the theater feeling better than you have in six months,” promises Ploof. “There’s a lot about family in this play. Deep, long friendships. A lot of humor. Terrific music. A love for the simple things.”

The last six months have given Ploof an acute appreciation for the simple things, as well as a deeper understanding for the show must go on.

“The word is must,” Ploof points out. “We’ve been here for 70 years. How does Ocala wake up tomorrow without its civic theater? We are an essential part of the bloodstream of this community. We are woven into its fabric. The key word is must. We must. There is no other option.

“Human beings need art,” she quickly adds. “We don’t even know how much we need it, but we do. So, it’s not just about the show anymore. It’s about the must.”

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