May 26, 2021
Last year was a challenge, especially for arts organizations that had already invested countless hours of planning and preparation into creating a memorable lineup of shows that would never happen.
But the folks at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts are a resilient bunch and managed to make it through relatively unscathed. They even staged a few productions during the fall and winter.
As venues begin opening up around the country and people feel more comfortable about enjoying events in person again, the Wagon Wheel Theatre is gearing up for what promises to be one of the best and most appreciated summer seasons in recent history.
Ready and Rarin’ to Go
Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts Executive Director Jay Michaels told Whatzup in a recent interview that when everything shut down last spring, they had already been promoting their 2020 season for about nine months and had sold thousands of advance tickets and season passes. They were looking forward to building on the momentum from a strong 2019 season.
Though they managed to wedge in a community theater performance before everything was shuttered, the theater staff was forced to postpone all other performances for what they believed at the time would be a short period.
“We pushed everything back one month,” Michaels said. “We were hoping that we would still get a season in. Of course, as we got closer to that date of July 1, when we were going to kick it off, we obviously knew we weren’t going to be able to do that, so we had to push it a year.”
Adapting on the fly and doing whatever they could to help people stay entertained and keep their business going, and with an eye toward safety, the theater managed to present Always Patsy Cline outside in a tent in August.
They also sold out five limited-capacity nights of another community theater show in the fall and presented a junior performance before the second pandemic wave hit, putting a halt to productions once again.
A well-received virtual Christmas performance was presented in December, but “we’ve not done a professional theater show since December of 2019,” Michaels said. “We are so looking forward to opening again and welcoming about 50 people to Warsaw to work this summer.”
From Classics to Comedies
The Wagon Wheel is known nationally and recruits actors from across the country. In non-COVID-19 years, Artistic Director Scott Michaels (no relation to Jay) typically auditions actors and actresses in New York City and Chicago, at Western Michigan University, Texas State University, and Florida State University, as well as locally at the Wagon Wheel.
“He sees more than 1,500 people each year in order to fill about 30 spots,” Jay Michaels said. “The Wagon Wheel has a huge reputation across the country as a place to work at least once if you’re an actor that wants to do summer stock. We’ve been very blessed to have many actors and crew go on to work on national tours and on Broadway.
“We have back-to-back-to-back classics to start the season.”
The classics are The Wizard of Oz, Guys & Dolls, and The Music Man. Performances take place daily June 2-12, June 16-22, and June 30-July 10 except for Mondays and July 3.
At the midpoint of the season, the Wagon Wheel takes a slightly different path to present Big the Musical, July 14-24. The play is based on the 1988 Tom Hanks film of the same name and is a family-friendly production, full of high-energy singing and dancing.
A unique take on Pride & Prejudice follows July 28-Aug. 7. Michaels calls it a reboot of sorts, exploring the absurdities and thrills of finding your perfect match in life.
The summer season then wraps up with the hilarious musical Nunsense, Aug. 11-21.
Here Comes the Summer
As the actors and crew have arrived in Warsaw to begin learning their initial roles, as well as the other roles they will fill during this Indiana summer, Michaels said the theater is shining once again.
“I’ve missed the life that this theater has when people are here,” he said. “Summer is huge around here. It’s our biggest money maker and these are our biggest events. We’ve missed our patrons. We’ve missed the actors that are here. We’ve missed just about everything.”
While it’s hard to say anything good happened to anyone in 2020, Michaels said the theater was somehow able to grow the organization’s education programs for kids through the pandemic, ensuring a bright future for aspiring actors and actresses. More importantly, Michaels said no one at the Wagon Wheel had to be fired or placed on furlough during the crisis.
“That was my goal, to keep everybody working,” he said. “And we were able to do that.”
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