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Lee Street theatre pivots after positive COVID-19 tests cancel live shows

SALISBURY — Emotion crept into Elizabeth Ruiz’s voice as she described what the cast of Lee Street theatre’s “9 to 5: The Musical” means to her.

“We as a team practiced for four months, and now we’re more of a family rather than just a cast or crew,” Ruiz said. “It’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in theater.”

Less than a week before Ruiz and the rest of the cast were set to perform “9 to 5: The Musical” in front of a live audience, Lee Street theatre discovered that a cast member had tested positive for COVID-19. The theater’s board of directors immediately decided to cancel the live performances scheduled to begin on Friday and shutter its doors for 14 days.

“It wasn’t until this past weekend right before we went into our dress rehearsal week to open that a cast member got sick,” Lee Street theatre Executive Director Rod Oden said. “We thought it was weird. We immediately instituted some testing and found out that we had a cast member that was exposed and we immediately went into a shutdown and quarantine.”

Since then, Oden said, several cast members have tested positive.

Excitement for the live performances was apparent, Oden said. The show’s entire three-weekend run was sold out at the time the live performances were called off.

Ruiz, who was set to play the role of Judy Bernly, is still trying to adjust to having the live shows canceled and not seeing her castmates everyday.

“We’re trying our best. We have our group chat on Facebook where we talk to each other so we’re OK, but it’s still strange,” Ruiz said. “We used to see each other all the time and now we don’t and now we have to cope with that.”

Oden said that while he was “devastated” that the cast wasn’t able to perform the musical it’d been practicing for months, he’s most concerned about the well-being of the play’s actors and actresses.

The “9 to 5: The Musical” cast began rehearsing via Zoom four months ago. After meeting virtually for a month, the cast convened for rehearsals in person while following health and safety measures, including taking temperature checks at the door, wearing masks while not actively performing and practicing social distancing.

Ruiz, a sophomore working toward her bachelor’s degree in musical theater at Catawba College, said that the cast was diligent about following safety protocols.

“We all tried really, really hard to stay as safe as possible,” Ruiz said. “Being in theater, we know and understand that we need to take care of ourselves, not just for personal health, but for the people around you.”

Although the cast won’t be able to show off the product to a live audience, the public will still be able to enjoy the show. Only now, it’ll be at their homes as they watch through a computer or TV screen. Once it is safe for the cast to return to the theatre, Oden said that they will meet to record scenes for the show. He’ll combine that with clips he captured throughout the rehearsal process and will upload it to the theatre’s website for viewing. Those who bought a ticket to the live show will be able to convert it into a streaming ticket or they can request a refund.

Ruiz said she is excited for an audience to see the show, even though it won’t be in person.

“It does make me rather sad because I would have loved for everyone to have seen and experienced that show live. We’ve all been working so, so hard for it to happen,” Ruiz said. “… Once this is over and we can all get together again we can get that final product to the audience because I feel like they’ve been waiting so long for it. I want them to see what we’ve been working on.”

Hosting live performances of “9 to 5: The Musical” was going to be a bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for Lee Street theatre, Oden said.

“To be honest with you, the theater is hanging on by a thread just like the rest of us in the nation right now,” Oden said. “… It is a miracle that we have hung on as long as we have. Our patrons and our partners have kept us alive and we’re thankful for that support.

Any updates will be posted on Lee Street theatre’s Facebook page or on its website.

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