With COVID adjustments, curtain to rise for in-person theater performances in Ridgefield

RIDGEFIELD — While other live theater venues temporarily bowed out of the industry due to COVID-related restrictions last March, A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut never closed.

For its third season, the nonprofit pivoted its entire production schedule to meet audiences where they were — in their homes. But next week, ACT of CT will present in-person performances of Stephen Sondheim's acclaimed musical “Into The Woods” in partnership with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra.

Following its livestreamed rendition of Stephen Schwartz's “Snapshots,” ACT considered a full-scale production of Sondheim's work with elaborate sets, lavish costumes and special effects. But since budgeting such a project with capacity limitations seemed impractical, the team opted for a different approach.

“Into The Woods” will take on a concert-style format, with members of the orchestra seated upstage behind protective barriers. Actors will remain on stage for the entire show, and will each be stationed at a “dedicated stool that is specific to their character,” Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine said.

“What I always tell people is ‘don't let the word concert version fool you,’” he added. “It is not song selections from the show — it is the entire show from the first word to the last word.”

The production marks the first partnership between ACT and RSO, which hasn’t been able to perform as a full orchestra in more than a year, according to Executive Director Laurie Kenagy. Its performances normally feature 65 musicians playing altogether, but only 12 will supplement the score of “Into The Woods.”

And since percussionists will be set up in the theater’s lobby, their parts will be transmitted to the rest of the musicians on stage via headphones, according to Music Supervisor and Conductor Bryan Perri. “The challenges are ... myriad, but we at ACT say limitations breed creativity,” he said.

ACT recruited Barts Tree Service in Danbury to stock the set with trunks, stumps and branches, creating a mythical landscape illuminated by a network of hanging Edison bulbs. The fixtures will light up respective to the characters featured in each scene, and at certain points, the stage’s built-in turntable will rotate to move the actors around — ideal for social distancing.

“In a way, there’s sort of a Brechtian vibe because you’re constantly aware you’re in a theater,” Perri said.

Kenagy said the limited set and on-stage orchestra would make Sondheim’s score “much more of a focus” and allow the musicians to interact more intimately with the actors and the audience.

“It’s a great way to achieve a different impression,” RSO’s Concertmaster Jorge Avila said of the format. “That rush (of live performing) is something we’ve been missing … (and) this show is a testament to the resiliency of the arts community.”

Equally resilient are patrons of the arts — within a week, tickets sold out. Each performance will seat 90 people to comply with the 50 percent capacity limit, and health screenings will be administered prior to entering the building.

“It’s exciting to know that people are ready to come back,” Producing Director Erin Craig said. She added that the theater would continue with these precautionary measures “until we're finally out of the woods.”

Although the pandemic has changed the world of live performing, Kenagy said the collaborations it bred are here to stay.

“We’ve all learned to modify what we do … but it bodes well going forward,” she said. “The fact that (this performance) is happening is huge, and it shows how much the community values the arts.”

“Part of our mission is to help continue to make Ridgefield an arts destination,” Levine added, “and theater has a way of bringing the community together.”