The Board of Directors of By The Sea Productions – Front row: Kelli M. Poward, Sam Gottlieb, Rhonda Crowfoot, Anita Schwaber. Back row: Sarah Ruth Smith, Sheridan Cole, Janice Peters. Photo submitted
Sometimes you think things will never happen, this was how players of By The Sea Productions, community theater in Morro Bay, felt as the pandemic dragged on. However, they are happy to have their seventh season fully underway.
“Surviving six years of live theater in a small town is a monumental achievement,” said Janice Peters, a board member and one of the founders of the troupe. “Getting through the loss of a whole season was difficult.”
No one could predict that the pandemic would last as long as it did and that put into question whether an audience would return when they were finally able to open.
By The Sea Productions morphed out of the theater players of the Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria and began with their first season in 2017. Finding a venue was their first chore and the group was thrilled when Sidney Symington, pastor of Saint Peter’s By the Sea Episcopal Church in Morro Bay, offered the use of the church hall. Symington, who is a bit of a thespian, was happy for the collaboration.
“The church benefits as well as us,” Peters said, “as we pay monthly rent and a portion of ticket sales.”
Volunteers got busy constructing the basic stage that is used for every production but is changed with additions of windows and doors and stage left and stage right entrances and exits depending on the footprint of the play. The director is in charge of what goes into the set and the whole thing works by illusion.
By The Sea Productions is a non-profit organization. Actors are not paid, but some do get mileage compensation if they travel from outside of the coastal area.
“A small theater like this remains non-professional as long as they don’t seat over 90 people,” Peters said. “We have settled on 50 seats maximum, and reservations are recommended.”
This year the production company is pleased to have received $4600 in grant money from the City of Morro Bay and plans to change the theater lighting to LED lights, which are more economical and better for the environment. Aside from ticket sales, donations and grants are what support the theater.
While full scale musicals are out due to space and stage composition, this company finds many productions that fit their bill. In their first season in 2017, many of the plays were well known classics but in ensuing years a wider variety have been chosen.
“We want to make sure our audience goes home feeling good,” Peters said.
One area where they choose more edgy plays or some with a social justice theme is Readers Theater. This is not actors standing at a podium and reading but works with an appropriate set and the actors do move around. In 2019 they performed “War of the Worlds.”
As the pandemic began to lift its grisly hold on the community, players immediately swept into action. “We had many plays that we wanted to,” Peters said, “but we had to hold off on until we could have an audience.”
In order to make sure everyone would be safe, both masks and evidence of vaccination were initially required. Overhead fans and air purifiers were installed. Seating was reduced in order to create more space between people. Then as 2022 moved into spring the theater doors were open again with a series of staged readings beginning with “84 Charing Cross Road.”
“We were so happy to see so many of our audience returning.” Peters said, “It was a sigh of relief.”
The current production, “The Psychic” is a mysterious comedy about a writer in New York City who offers psychic services out of desperation to make rent. There are twists in the plot that make this a hilarious murder mystery. It runs weekends Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through March 12.
By The Sea Productions is at St. Peters by the Sea Church, 545 Shasta Avenue, Morro Bay. For tickets go to www.bytheseaproductions.org. Evidence of vaccination no longer required. Masks optional.