Return from the Wings is an interview series that examines the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on theatre. Leaders from companies and playhouses across the Southland learned to adapt and went without. Now, as the house lights start to come back up and California allows for venues to reopen, those very same leaders reflect on how life changed in a seemingly endless stretch without live performance.
This week, we speak with Christian Lebano, the Producing Artistic Director of the Sierra Madre Playhouse.
Q: What did the pandemic teach you about theatre?
A: COVID-19 offered several lessons, I think for all of us. But in the theatre, it made us stop, take stock, take a look around, rethink, reconsider – if you are seeing the state of my theatre allowed us to rebuild. And I think that that is true for all of us, as we’re dealing with COVID, that this year has been a year of rethinking, rebuilding, moving forward. And in terms of me personally, it reminded me how important theatre is to me personally, but also, that I observed how important it is for us as a community. Theatre is community. And the stories we tell in here are the same stories with different characters, that we were telling each other around campfires 1000s of years ago. I think COVID reminded us all that we are part of one community and that we’ve missed it.
Q: You have a blank check. What would be your dream production?
A: I would love to do a production of Gypsy. The musical. I think Gypsy is the most extraordinary American musical. It’s about theatre, it’s about theatre people. It’s about families, mothers, daughters. I think could do an amazing production of Gypsy. And I’m not a musical director! But that’s…. giving me a blank check – that’s what we would do.
Q: Where do you want to be one year from now?
A: When we first closed, as every other theatre did at the same time, it was a real shock. How would we make it through without any revenue? So we put out a fundraising appeal and said, you know, if you have ever wanted to support SMP, this is the time. And we made 160% of what we set as a goal. And what that told me was that this community, our community, the larger community, loves this theatre wants it to survive. We had 227 new donors who had never donated before and they spoke to how happy they were to have us in this community. So I think it is only possible that we will continue to build on, and I’m not going to say goodwill, but on that need, that desire. I look forward to a very robust relationship with our community in a year and a half.
Q: What is your next production?
A: SMP is taking the lead in coming back. From everything I can tell, and I’m very wired into this community, we will be the second theatre to launch a production. And on July 31, we are opening You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, not in here, but for the first time in Memorial Park, which is just up the block. There’s a bandshell there and we are going to do our first outdoor production that they can concentrate on the experience and not worry about the experience. Right. So all the COVID protocols will be in place. We will be [in] socially distant circles. We’re selling circles of two, four, and six. And I chose You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown because it’s such a heartwarming, celebratory show. It’s one that entire families could come to after a year and a half of not being able to go to entertainment. It would be the perfect show to spend the, you know, late or early evening couple of hours outside in this great California weather with this great show.