EDITOR’s NOTE: In these distressing times, we need the arts more than ever, but the pandemic has wreaked havoc with performance and exhibition schedules. Over the past few weeks, BAMirror writer George Basler has been reporting on how local arts organizations are “Coping with COVID.” 

By George Basler

Summer Savoyards

The Summer Savoyards had been set to mark a milestone this past summer: the community arts organization’s 60th consecutive season of presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operettas in Broome County. The production team was already deep into its planning for Ruddigore when COVID-19 effectively shut down all live theater. The pandemic also ended the group’s springtime production of Playboy of the Western World in mid-run.

The cancellations deeply affected the Savoyards, said Jim Mica, chair of the executive board. Members have always been a social network, rather than a highly structured group, so “when we are not working on a show, the connections within the network lie fallow,” he explained.

Still, the executive board continues to meet to handle business matters and work on off-season fund-raising, he said. And the Savoyards stayed active in the community in a tangible way when a significant part of the set crew helped in the rebuild of the Recreation Park playground, that had been destroyed by fire over the summer.

The board met recently and talked about the possibility that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready by the end of the year, Mica said. The news raises hopes that the group could stage a production next summer. But the hope is tempered with caution,. Said Mica, “There is so much involved in rolling out a vaccine and getting folks inoculated that it’s hard to say when some kind of normalcy can be restored.”

A final decision on a summer show will come in March, Mica added. Possibilities include performing at Binghamton University’s Anderson Center, the group,s regular venue, or mounting a concert version in the park.

“Like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, we do want to put on a show. We have always shared their characters’ pluck and hope,” Mica said.

In the meantime, the board plans to reach out to current and former Savoyards to have them record their favorite Gilbert and Sullivan selections and bits of history about the group. The hope is to turn the oral and musical retrospective into an online fundraiser for the group, Mica said. He noted, however, that this is going to be a challenge, since the organization has always focused on live performances

SRO Productions III

The COVID-19 pandemic hit SRO Productions III hard. The community theater group had to cancel its summer camp for young performers, which had been fully booked. The pandemic also forced cancellation of the musical Dogfight, even though it had been fully cast. In the Heights, scheduled for January, is off as well.

“It’s been difficult for a lot of people who want to perform and miss the camaraderie of performing. But if Broadway can’t do it, how can we?” said Pam Ondrusek, president of the board of the theater company, now in its 36th year.

As for streaming shows, SRO discussed this option, but it is difficult for a community organization to do well, Ondrusek said. She now hopes SRO can do a live production in the spring at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City. (The Goodwill Theatre, which operates this space, is working on a plan to erect a tent in the parking lot for shows.)

While productions are on hold, SRO still hopes to stage Dogfight next fall, Ondrusek said. “It (the pandemic) has greatly affected us,” she said. “We’re waiting to see how all this plays out.”

Binghamton Community Orchestra

The Binghamton Community Orchestra is working to fulfill its mission in a non-traditional way even as COVID-19 has shut down live concerts, Peter Roseboom, president of the board, said.

Specifically, the orchestra, which dates from 1984, hopes to work with music teachers in local school districts to provide some “virtual instruction” to students, he said. This instruction would include lectures on composers and demonstrations by orchestra members. Evan Meccarello, the orchestra’s new music director, would be actively involved.

“We are doing surveys of school teachers to see how we can help,” Roseboom said.

The board showed its optimism in the future by announcing Meccarello’s appointment in the summer even though live concerts are on hold. BCO wanted to send a message to the community that the orchestra remains a viable organization despite the pandemic, Nathan Raboy, a board member, said at the time.

Roseboom restated this optimism now. In addition to the “virtual instruction,” preliminary discussion is taking place about collaborating with the Broome County Music Educators Association on a spring event, he said. However, he stressed, nothing is sure at this point.

When in-person concerts return, Meccarello has said he wants to bring an eclectic repertoire and wide music tastes to the orchestra.  This will include work from contemporary composers, as well as the classical music canon.

“The Binghamton Community Orchestra is still alive and well,” Roseboom said. “The arts are something that are never going away. They enrich the whole human endeavor.”