Right before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered theaters across the world, West Hartford Community Theater was planning a night of original one-act plays.
Like everything else, that was postponed. On Sept. 17 and 18, those plays — all written by Connecticut playwrights — will finally take center stage at the Elmwood Community Center.
“We had this all planned for April 2020,” said Terry Szymanski, a co-president of the group who is also directing one of the plays. “We had the cast picked and we were starting rehearsals. And then all of a sudden we couldn’t do it.”
Outside of a night of improv and a few trivia nights, the upcoming show is the first stage production the group has put on since their November 2019 rendition of the musical “Mamma Mia!.”
It’s fair to say that after such a long time away from the stage that the cast and crew is eager to return to performing.
“We asked all the directors if they wanted to come back,” said Corey Mason, the show’s producer. “They were excited. They wanted to finally put on this show. Everyone is really excited to finally get this opportunity. I’ve done some readings via Zoom, but I haven’t done anything live, and I think most of us haven’t. There’s a lot of excitement. It’s wonderful to get to be part of the first opportunity for many people to get back into this life we all love so much.”
Patrice Fitzgerald, who is directing a play called “Mirror, Mirror,” said it was an odd experience to be right at the starting gate of directing a play but then having it all taken away from you. But she’s looking at it as an opportunity for the show to be even better than it could have been a year ago.
“We had just started. We did a read through. We talked about costumes but we hadn’t gotten started,” Fitzgerald said. “And then there’s this long hiatus. For me, as the director, it has allowed the play to sink in and just mellow and for me to get to know it better. We’re well on our way. We’re creating a community again because we didn’t get the chance to do that with this group.”
David Gorman, who is acting in “Genie in a Bud Light” and directing “How May I Help You?,” said the biggest challenge was coming back to material after being away from it for so long.
“We’re just starving to be in the theater again,” Gorman said. “This is a unique experience. In some cases we can’t remember what we rehearsed a year and a half ago. It’s a very strange thing to rehearse and take a year off and then rehearse again.”
Mason said the evening’s six different one-act plays are all of a similar quirky and fun tone, and she’s glad that’s the way things turned out.
“I’m really glad we made a decision to keep these light and fun,” Mason said. “It will be a great night to get back into that moment of losing yourself. They’re quirky and they’re fun and a lot of laughter will be happening. I can’t wait to hear that sound again.”
And that reaction from the audience, as much as anything else, is what these performers crave the most.
“Not only will we be thrilled to get back on stage with each other, we will be thrilled to be with an audience,” Fitzgerald said. “You feel them. You feel the response and the laughter or the gasp or whatever. That’s a large part of the reward and the pay that we get for putting on shows like this.”
Though nothing is set in stone yet, Szymanski said they are having discussions about producing their signature fall musical in 2022, which would be three years since the last one. They just need to figure out where, as their usual venue of Hall High School may not be available to them.
“This will be the second year in a row that we haven’t done our signature event. We are in the process of beginning discussions about what musical to do,” Szymanski said. “One of the things we’re working on is the venue. We’ve been at Hall High for a bunch of years. We don’t know where it’s going to be. We really have to find a big venue for a musical, but that won’t stop us from planning.”