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Driftwood Players hold COVID-19 tempered auditions for upcoming play

Masks in the Dining Room?
A. Driftwood players-The Dining Room
The Dining Room production team of (left to right) Jeanne Sommerfield, Bill Forst and Mac Dodge discuss auditions at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse.

The Driftwood Players welcomed Sunshine Coast actors—carefully masked and with vaccine passports in-hand—to auditions on Jan. 9 at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse. The Sunshine Coast theatrical group is casting for an upcoming production of A. R. Gurney’s stage play The Dining Room, even as COVID-19 restrictions and rising Omicron case counts force the production team to adjust the mechanics of in-person rehearsals.

The show’s original director, Troy Demmitt, has stepped aside due to illness. Mac Dodge will now direct, supported by producer Bill Forst and stage manager Jeanne Sommerfield.

Performances are scheduled to take place in early April.

Dodge previously provided artistic direction for the Driftwood Players’ 2021 performance of A Visit to Spoon River, a series of video monologues filmed while observing strict social distancing.

“The Dining Room was actually selected in the fall of 2020, before COVID,” said Forst. “That said, in a time where social isolation is the norm, it will be refreshing to watch the interactions of multiple characters over several social generations. In practical terms, the small cast of The Dining Room, and relatively static set should allow us to hold rehearsals and production meetings in COVID-safe venues.”

The play, which premiered off-Broadway in 1981, was originally written for six actors playing multiple parts. During Sunday’s auditions, Dodge observed with a laugh that the small cast size might permit rehearsals to take place in the respective actors’ dining rooms.

Seven hopefuls were on-scene to try out for one or more of the 57 speaking roles. Forst announced that a second audition will be scheduled to accommodate aspiring players who were unavailable because of sickness.

Producer Bill Forst has readied contingency plans to ensure that preparations conform to provincial health orders and meteorological challenges. “I’ll be working with the team to maintain COVID safety,” he said, “and to arrange rehearsals schedules and venues to mitigate winter driving challenges. At this time we are all hoping that the current COVID wave will be brief, however we will have to be prepared for the eventuality of missed rehearsals due to illness, and the worst case scenario of postponement should the pandemic continue beyond current expectations.”

Gurney’s script was a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and satirizes the culture of white Americans in the mid-twentieth century. In shaping his directorial vision for the Sunshine Coast staging, Dodge is considering how he might use up-to-the-minute costuming to sharpen the play’s social commentary.

“If we’re going to satirize people, I’m sort of getting back to talk about masks,” he said. “I think in directing you always wonder how you can make it contemporary, how you can connect it. And so I’m just wondering if maybe masks become a part of it because of the times. We’ll have to see whether they come on stage with masks and then they take them off—depending on what happens.”

Inquiries about additional auditions can be directed to driftwoodplayers@gmail.com.