‘Medora Christmas’ postponement shows how local art persists despite COVID-19 setbacks and uncertainties
Now, on December 13, the theater will be empty after the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation announced the cancellation of nine stops on the show’s tour due to groundbreaking cases of COVID-19 in production. This includes the tour’s scheduled stop at Northwood, a town of 980 people about 40 miles southwest of Grand Forks.
“We were very disappointed as we put a lot of effort into making this a much anticipated event for our community and their families, and indeed the surrounding communities as well,” said Judy Engen, President of the Northwood Performing Arts Council.
With the show time around Christmas, there was no possibility of rescheduling at Northwood.
“We wish the cast and staff at Medora the best, and I’m sure they were also very disappointed as we know they worked hard to get ready and were excited for this tour,” said Engen.
Meanwhile, the production has revised its holiday schedule and will perform several more shows this season. The updated program features the show, including at Wahpeton on December 14; Jamestown, December 15; Park Rapids, Minn., December 16; Bloomington, Minn., December 17-18; Grand Forks, December 19; Fargo, December 20; and Bismarck, December 21-23.
Between last-minute cancellations, COVID-19 mitigation strategies to ensure public and staff safety, and uncertainty about the end of the pandemic, entertainment organizations and venues are facing new realities when it comes to organizing concerts, theatrical performances and other events.
Despite the challenges, 2021 has brought a comeback for many in the region.
This year, the Northern Lights Arts Council, which organizes visual and performance art events and operates the Roxy Theater in Langdon, has found renewed support from the community.
“The influx of donations and support we have received this year has been truly exceptional,” said Amber Benoit, General Manager of Marketing and Programming. “The community is generous every year, but this year even more, and people recognize that we provide a vital service to the community.”
Benoit says event planning now requires more effort and communication than before the pandemic, as planners must think about how to keep attendees and the community safe. When working with outside organizations, like the Missoula Children’s Theater, which comes to Langdon every year, the Northern Lights Arts Council must comply with each organization’s COVID-19 requirements.
For this year’s Christmas musical, which runs December 9-12, contingency plans have been put in place in case someone can’t perform. Most importantly, said Benoit, the show has an alternate accompanist and a recording of the music from the show.
While some organizations have resumed hosting events, others are still on hiatus. The Northern Lights Concert Association in Roseau, Minnesota has not hosted an event since February 2020. The organization typically presents five concerts per season at Roseau High School Theater. People can only attend shows by purchasing a subscription, so members pay a one-time fee to get tickets for all five shows in a season.
After two years without a concert, the Northern Lights Concert Association will be bringing performances back to Roseau with one show in April, and another in May to make up for the two canceled performances for 2019-20 members. Then, the 2022-2023 season will begin, which will have five full shows, as in the past.
Mitchell Johnson, president of the Northern Lights Concert Association, does not yet know what the community’s interest in the 2022-2023 concert series will look like.
“There could be several things: one is that they have lost interest, the other could be that they are so hungry to enjoy this kind of entertainment again and they will sign up again and will cheer on their friends and neighbors, ”Johnson said.
The Northern Lights Concert Association Board of Directors met this week to select performers for the upcoming season, who will then be booked through Allied Concert Services. Once artists have been booked, it is the Northern Lights Concert Association’s responsibility to promote the shows and generate interest in the concert series.
“I’m not worried or worried about it,” Johnson said. “It’s a wonderful service that the board provides to the community and the community appreciates it, so I expect there will be continued interest. “
While COVID-19 has left many organizations struggling to fill theaters, the Fort Totten Little Theater in Devils Lake has had two of its most successful years to date.
In 2020, the theater was able to continue its 58-year streak by moving its annual summer musical to a new location. Rather than hosting the summer show at the Fort Totten State Historic Site, the summer musical was staged at Roosevelt Park in Devils Lake. After determining the logistics like lighting and sound, the change of venue led to great success, director Peter Foss said.
“The pandemic has probably been a blessing for us. It’s moved us to a place where three and five times as many people come to our shows now, ”said Foss.
The theater at Fort Totten State Historic Site can seat around 230 people, while around 450 people can catch a performance at Roosevelt Park. In the past, the Fort Totten Little Theater musical had around 1,200 people during its airing, but Foss said last year that summer attendance was just under 7,000.
The 2021 summer musical “Grease” took place in Roosevelt Park, and in the summer of 2022, the Fort Totten Little Theater will return for their 60th summer musical with “Jersey Boys,” which Foss said will once again be staged at Roosevelt Park.
“I don’t think our summer show will ever come back,” Foss said. “I think we’ve found a new place that people seem to like a lot more.”
The Fort Totten Little Theater has only done summer programs in the past, but will host its first winter show in January 2022 with “Foreign Affairs,” a comedy play by Devils Lake native David Lassig.
“We just felt like there was a great need for theater stuff and stuff for people to do in the community, so we thought we would give that a try and see how it goes,” Foss said.
In Northwood, Engen says members of the Northwood Performing Arts Council and the community are disappointed with the cancellation of A Magical Medora Christmas, but they don’t see it as a big setback for the arts in the community. In February, singer-songwriter Jessie Veeder of Watford City will take the stage at the Northwood Performing Arts Center.
“We try not to revisit this disappointment, but rather to look forward to our next event,” she said.