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Emily Goss and James Sutorius
Actors Emily Goss and James Sutorius rehearse for North Coast Repertory Theatre's production of "Trying" before the show is filmed for streaming audiences. Photo by Aaron Rumley provided by North Coast Repertory Theatre
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North Coast Rep’s online productions help keep theater afloat

SOLANA BEACH — After having its last performance in front of a live audience nearly a year ago, the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach has continued to put on stage productions for its patrons, streaming its recorded shows online for fans in San Diego and around the country.

On March 15, North Coast Rep held its final in-person live performance of “The Outsider” before being forced to shut its doors to audiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then the theater has adapted to the public health crisis in a way that has allowed them to continue being an outlet for artists and theatergoers.

“We made the commitment when this all started to not go under and be flexible and willing to adapt and do what we had to to keep making productions for our patrons and for our community,” said David Ellenstein, the theater’s artistic director.

Several weeks after the last performance of “The Outsider,” the theater produced a live Zoom version of the play “Human Error.” Since then they have opted for producing a filmed version of their shows made for online streaming.

North Coast Rep is currently working on its sixth project since the start of the pandemic, a two-person show entitled “Trying” by playwright Joanna McClelland Glass. The production is still in the rehearsal stage with as few people in the theater as possible while work is being done as they prepare for the final filming of the show.

During rehearsals, only four people are in the theater, being Ellenstein, the two actors and the stage manager. During filming, two camera operators and a production assistant are added, all of whom follow public health protocols while inside the theater, including being tested for COVID-19 and remaining far apart from the actors who wear masks unless on stage.

James Sutorius, a multiple-time San Diego Theatre Critics Award winner, is starring in this production of “Trying,” his first role since the beginning of the pandemic. One bright side of the new way this show will be produced is the chance for expanded reach, particularly to friends and family living across the country.

“Everybody will get to see it who never would see it,” Sutorius said. “But they will get to see it in Florida, and New York and Denver. And they never would have seen it, so that’s really good.”

While Ellenstein remains realistic about the prospect of welcoming audiences back into the theater this year, he is hopeful of beginning conversations with city and county officials soon to begin the process of preparing for that goal.

“I have a feeling us reaching out to them to get that process going is coming in the next month,” Ellenstein said. “I know that the very earliest I see anybody coming back live is June or July but probably more realistically it’s going to be September, but I don’t know for sure yet.”

North Coast Rep has been able to find a way with its streaming shows, along with what Ellenstein calls “generous” donations from their patrons, to not just keep its doors open but continue to its artistic mission safely in a pandemic. Still, they are anxious to welcome their patrons back.

“I’m not going to pretend it’s the same thing,” Ellenstein said. “I’m in the theater business, I’m not in the film business for a reason. The buzz of the audience and the relationship that develops between the actors on stage and a live audience is so paramount to what the experience of theater is. But this is all we can do.”

“Trying” will begin streaming on the North Coast Repertory Theatre’s website on March 24 and will run through April 18.

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