Musical Theatre Now Playing!

Local theaters are reopening again, bringing hope to actors, staff and audiences

Photo by Ginnie Jeschelnig on

Local musical theaters in Los Angeles County reflect back on the past pandemic year – focusing all sights today toward a better future for the industry in 2021. With new protocols and requirements being implemented to allow future shows to premiere, theater veterans are eager to hit the stage once again with so many being out of the game for so long.

One local theater actor, Haylee Coburn, 30, with more than 15 years of experience, is hopeful that the industry will return in full swing this year. She’s prepared for any and all necessary compromises along the way in order to help keep everyone safe.

Hailing from Claremont, California, Coburn is no stranger to the industry, having worked on classics such as “Annie” and “A Christmas Story” at the Glendale Centre Theatre. She has been performing on stage long before high school and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre from the Chicago College of Performing Arts in 2013. Coburn also does volunteer work at her local church program, Youth Theatre Works, working with kids from ages eight to 18. Over the years, she has used her passion of musical theatre and singing to help continue the tradition of on-stage performing for her community.

However, the pandemic caused so much uncertainty. It not only derailed the industry, but everyone involved in these productions felt a shock wave of depression and distress.

“It was a very emotional deal,” Coburn said. “Everyone was depressed for a while and freaking out; as I was.”

Many involved in the production of these shows and those that run the theaters, were also severely impacted, if not more so than the actors.

Fast-forward to today, and as the state of California is getting closer to reopening with the recent vaccine distributions, new requirements and temporary alternatives to the traditional style of theater are already going into effect. For the few local theaters that have reopened already, actors are required to wear a specific kind of face-shield with the base of the shield starting at the chin, moving upwards. It covers the entire face in a curved and clear plastic tube. Though meant for safety, there’s no question that this will appear jarring to the audience. For the actors on stage wearing these, this can potentially get in the way of their performances, their solo and their zone for acting.

Other theaters, such as the Lineage Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, recently premiered their newest production “Next to Normal” on April 15, and is drive-in style for the audience. While this can potentially work very well for those who are in attendance and can safely watch from their cars, it may not be so great for those on stage. Coburn is concerned that the actors won’t be able to see any of the reactions from the audience like they do in a more traditional theater setting.

“I can only imagine how difficult it must be for these actors to connect with their audience in this drive-in approach to theatre,” Coburn said. “Part of what makes live theatre so exciting is the energy created between the actors and the audience. It’s why people love going to see these shows.”

Even though these new rules and regulations are far from traditional musical theatre, Coburn sees it as a sign that things are slowly falling back into place and many can begin getting back to work.

“We will eventually turn back to normal and Broadway productions themselves are trying for fall reopenings.”

While she’s not too crazy for these new temporary rules, it certainly beats having theaters close up shop for good leaving actors out of a job.