• Rachel Lingenfelter

We’re At Intermission: Local Theater Company Keeping Optimistic

It’s not just sports and festivals that are going to be missed. Many in the community who hold the theater close to their hearts are sad to hear that seasons for many theater companies are being put on hold due to concerns with the Coronavirus. Things Unseen Theater Company, based out of Altoona, performs all shows at The Church In the Middle of the Block, 217 5th Ave. With an array of performances hosted, this event space has created a unique touch to every production Things Unseen produces. Sadly, those shows that were planned for the 2020 season had to be pushed to later. Co-founder, Valerie Stratton, is keeping positive that the show will, once again, go on. We were also able to reach out to some of the directors and hear about their upcoming shows for the end of summer into fall.

“There are still a lot of activities people are doing and can be doing, using programs like Zoom,” Stratton says. “It’s the live theater that’s hurting.” After bringing Things Unseen to life with co-founder Jody Hesley, Stratton knew that this theater company was going to be different than others in the area. As a host for unique productions, Things Unseen’s goal is to put on plays that have sensitive topics or themes. They also are welcoming to local playwrights, giving them opportunities to show off their own work, but they want the community of Blair County and Central Pennsylvania to see theater as a common activity. With the COVID-19 pandemic upon our community, many large group events have been canceled, including upcoming seasons of theater productions. Stratton says their upcoming production, set to be put up in May, had to be canceled but future shows are still hoping to be featured for the public.

This fall is going to be the directorial debut of Jarrett Gillespie and the production of Puffs, a hilarious show about the little known students of a famous ‘wizarding school.’ Gillespie was thrilled when he was given the opportunity to direct and this show is perfect for him. “The show itself is very improv driven, “ he says. “There are a lot of places in the script where the playwright has been nice enough to tell you that you’re allowed to improv certain scenes or lines. It has the possibility of being a different show every night.” He talked about his plans for the show itself and preparation. “I plan to do some improv games during rehearsals as well as some improv games before the show begins. I want it to feel like ten childhood friends are putting on a play in their backyard for their parents.” Lighthearted and fun, the production is expected to run August 27th to the 29th at 7:30 pm and August 30th at 2:00 pm.

Another show that’s going up in September will be directed by Matt Michrina, called, 45 Plays for 45 Presidents. Stratton talked about his plans for the show and how they are unique to the situation we are currently in. “He is already looking at the possibility of streaming this show as opposed to doing it live. Even though it’s not until September, he’s still concerned about whether people will be comfortable going out into crowds like that. So, we checked with the company and something like that is definitely possible. Some plays are more adaptable to that format than others.” We spoke to Michrina, who is already working diligently in pre-production for the show, and he commented on the idea of a remote option for his show. “45 Plays for 45 Presidents is such a timely, important show in a presidential election year and it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to safely perform for a live audience anytime soon.” He also gave a little background about the play itself. “It will still be a comedic look at the 45 men who have been elected president, focusing on how ordinary Americans control the direction in which our country moves.” He goes on, saying, “There will be singing, dancing, music, and maybe even some live-tweeting, so it’ll be a great time!” Performances for this show are September 23rd to the 27th.

These great shows couldn’t be possible without the support of the community and, even during this COVID-19 mandate, it’s important to support local arts groups and organizations. Both directors that we spoke too agreed that the support is so important from the community. Gillespie commented, “I think supporting local community arts is super important for a few reasons. One of which is there’s such a sense of community within these different arts groups, it’s not able to be reflected somewhere else. I’ve met lifelong friends that I never would have met, had it not been for organizations like Things Unseen, Altoona Community Theater, and Cresson Lake Playhouse.” Michrina goes on saying, “While supporting the arts is always important, it’s especially important in times like these. Theatre, and the arts as a whole, have always brought people together in times of trouble and relied on live audiences for their survival. At the moment, literally bringing people together is a bad idea, but arts organizations, around the world and in our own back yard, are finding ways to unite us and brighten the world around them with art.”

“We just want it all to get back to normal,” Stratton commented about what she’s looking forward to the most once the mandate is lifted. “We want to get these shows put up, allow the people who are directing to get that opportunity. We want to bring all of our interesting little shows back for the public to see.” To be able to bring more theater to the area, organizations like Things Unseen Theatre need your support. While it’s a priority to support our healthcare workers and other essential workers at this time, don’t forget to support the arts. If you wish to donate to Things Unseen Theatre, go to https://www.fracturedatlas.org/, go to the top right to the “Donate” tab. Then you can choose to “Designate a fiscally sponsored project” and it then lets you search for the group, first by the state, and then just type in the name ‘Things Unseen Theater’. Thank you to Things Unseen Theater, Valerie Stratton, Jarrett Gillespie, and Matt Michrina. Don’t forget to support the arts and artists in your area!

Follow Things Unseen Theatre on Facebook: @ThingsUnseenTheatreCompany

Check out what Things Unseen is up to on their website: https://www.thingsunseentheatre.com/

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