WOOSTER — For the first time in four decades, the music of the Ohio Light Opera will not fill the Freedlander Theatre at the College of Wooster.
The company on Tuesday announced that it will postpone its 2020 season, which was scheduled to run from June 13 to Aug. 8, until next summer due to the continued coronavirus pandemic. The Ohio Light Opera will present the full 2020 schedule of performances — including “Carousel” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, “Damn Yankees” by Adler & Ross and “Let ’Em Eat Cake” by George & Ira Gershwin — between June and August 2021.
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“Please be assured that this postponement will only add anticipated excitement to the 2021 summer festival season,” the company wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “OLO has weathered many storms. We carry with us 41 years of support from the College of Wooster, the City of Wooster and Wayne County, and all of our committed local business partners. We all look forward to welcoming our devoted audiences to our community as we anticipate the first 2021 performance on the Freedlander Theatre stage.”
The Ohio Light Opera draws about 20,000 patrons for its nearly 60 performances each summer, and ticket sales make up a majority of the company’s operating budget. The uncertainty caused by the continued spread of the coronavirus has made it difficult to forecast the demand for tickets, the company said in its statement.
“Added to this reality is our deep concern for those longtime patrons who travel from around the world to attend our festival,” it said. “Right now, they are reluctant to plan their summer through advance ticket purchasing. The difficult choice to postpone the 2020 summer season provides more stability for our company and patrons, thus ensuring our unique mission for the next 40-plus years.”
Ohio Light Opera patrons, especially those who come from out of town, typically provide a boon to the local economy, Main Street Wooster Executive Director Shannon Waller said.
“It definitely has tremendous economic impact on the downtown,” she said. “It’s always much busier when they’re in the midst of their season, and we get a lot of people coming in who might not otherwise come to Wooster. So that’s a huge value to our downtown merchants.”
Waller did not have specific figures on the company’s economic impact, but said that the Ohio Light Opera “reverberates across the economy,” touching businesses including hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and other merchants.
Laura Neill, Ohio Light Opera executive director, said the economic impact was one of the biggest factors the company considered in its decision to postpone.
Preparations for the 2020 season were already well underway before the postponement, Neill added. Auditions for the shows took place late last year, and most of the set and costume design was already done. The company was also in the process of finalizing its orchestra, which typically happens in early April.
While the 2020 season wasn’t set to open until mid-June, more than a 100 cast and crew members usually come from around the country and the world in Mid-May to begin preparations in Wooster.
“So this decision really was based upon whether or not we could be on campus in May,” Neill said.
The good news, artistic director Steven Daigle said, is that, thus far, the entire cast and crew for the 2020 season has been supportive of the decision to postpone, and committed to return to Wooster next year and present the same shows. Still, he added, the postponement is a loss for the community.
“This incredible community of people that we see every year, patrons and artists, is sort of lost,” Daigle said. “I hunger for it, and I hope everyone continues to hunger for it. And I think the community will, too, so that we keep that drive and motivation to come back and be even more successful in 2021.”
Anyone who has already purchased tickets for the 2020 season will have three options: donate the value of the tickets as a tax-deductible gift to the Ohio Light Opera, receive credit for tickets for next year’s season or receive a full refund. The company will email ticket holders in the coming days with the details.
— Daily Record reporter Jack Rooney can be reached at 330-287-1645 or [email protected]. He is on Twitter at twitter.com/RooneyReports.