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Holiday performances pivot to live streaming or new, outdoor venues with smaller audiences

Childsplay’s “A Christmas Carol” Nov. 28-Dec. 23. Photo by Tim Trumble.

Local artists have been innovating for months to bring back live theater. And while there won’t be holiday tunes ringing out from Phoenix Symphony Hall, or flocks of little girls lining up to get pictures with ballerinas from “The Nutcracker,” families can still enjoy holiday shows at outdoor or drive-in venues and see socially distanced performances around greater Phoenix.

In mid November, the Herberger Theater opened the Pavilion — an outdoor stage built on recently cleared land on the theater’s east side. The Herberger plans to host performances here through April 2021. Arizona Artificial Lawns donated turf to create a welcoming space for guests that can accommodate about 160 people following social-distancing guidelines. As restrictions on large gatherings loosen, the space could eventually accommodate more than 300. It is the biggest stage ever constructed on the Herberger Theater plaza, featuring more than 700 square feet of performance space.

Here, audiences can see Childsplay’s one-woman production of “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 23. Actress Katie McFadzen presents this Charles Dickens classic using vivid narration and in-character storytelling. Social distancing and masks will still be required.

“The opening of The Pavilion outdoor stage is about hope and giving an opportunity for companies to meet their audiences in a new way,” Mark Mettes, president and CEO of the Herberger Theater, said in a statement. “We have heard from our guests that digital offerings are just not the same. We want to answer the call and provide a live arts experience for the community. These outdoor performances are about being together, yet safely apart, in order to experience performances in a safe and socially distanced way.”

The Phoenix Theatre Company has also erected an outdoor stage on its campus next to the Phoenix Art Museum. All month, families can enjoy “Unwrapped: An Original Christmas Revue.” The live show with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe runs Dec. 2-23 and features classic and contemporary holiday gems from Pentatonix, NSYNC, Hanson and more.

Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert isn’t cancelling its traditional “A Christmas Carol” production — its 18th production of the holiday classic since the theater opened in 2003. But the show, which runs through Dec. 26, will feature smaller audiences with face masks and physical distancing required of audience members. Production Assistant Jessica Ottley says the script and show will be mostly the same, but with a slightly smaller cast and fewer musical and dance numbers in order to limit large groups singing together onstage. Small adjustments are made every year to keep the show fresh, “but this year’s is more true to Dickens’ book,” she adds.

For the third year in a row, Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre is presenting “A Christmas Story: The Play,” through Dec. 20 inside Scottsdale Fashion Square. Ellen Versen, the theater’s executive director, says the show is becoming another local holiday tradition.

“We decided to move this show to our larger space — Cullity Hall — so we could accommodate the same number of people with adequate social distancing,” Versen explains. “The stage and dressing room are also bigger in this space, so the relatively small cast of 11 will also be able to social distance.”

Cullity Hall’s seating has been revised to a staggered pattern, and tickets will be sold in pairs, leaving four empty seats between pairs, although accommodations can be made (in advance only) for families who want to be seated together.

“We wanted to make sure our first show upon reopening is a comedy, so audiences can laugh, and possibly escape, from their cares for a couple of hours,” Version says. “The nostalgia in this show will transport adults back to a simpler time.”




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