Cape Fear Regional Theatre to hold first outdoor production in October amid pandemic

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- After a six month hiatus, due to COVID-19, Cape Fear Regional Theatre is set to present its first outdoor production of the fall in mid-October.

For Sha'Air Hawkins, a musician, photographer, but most importantly, an actress, it'll be her first play she's prepared for in what feels like a lifetime.

"Being on stage and entertaining folks...and so having to just really sit still and kind of wait for something else to happen, it was just weird," Hawkins said. The actress, who is native to the Fayetteville area, was living in New York City when the pandemic struck. The statewide shutdown took away both her acting career and second job as a waitress.

Hawkins is currently the understudy for CFRT's production of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" with Janeta Jackson in the starring role. The play will tell the story of famous African American singer Billie Holiday's final performance before her untimely death in 1959.

The two-person play is comprised of Jackson and Brian Whitted, who is music directing and playing the role of Jimmy Powers, Lady Day's pianist.

Hawkins tells Eyewitness News she's happy to be back home and help be a part of the first production since COVID-19. "Feels like my heart is opening back up. Like I'm, uh, I'm brushing off the cobwebs and the sun is coming through the clouds".

However, when the curtain rises, audience members won't be filling up the seats in the theatre but congregating Haymount Auto, just a walking distance away, to enjoy a complete outdoor experience. CFRT has rented out the outdoor space.

Mary-Kate Burke, the Artistic Director at CFRT, says they've collaborated closely with the Cumberland County Department of Health to ensure this outdoor model is the safest option for audience members and staff.

"There will be temperature checks at the door, we're going to require audience members to wear masks the whole time, audience members are sat in groups of two or four and then the stage is fifteen feet from the front row," Burke said.

Like every other business and industry, the theatre world has been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic. Burke says they've had to cut down their staff from 14 to six, hoping to bring those former employees back on as quickly as possible.

"A survey from Americans for the Arts says that only 52 percent of theatres actually think they're going to survive the pandemic," Burke added.

With their first production around the corner, Burke hopes this will breathe new life into their industry and community. "If you can actually find people, you know, really experience things with other humans, instead of on a digital screen, it is amazing how much more that we have in common than how much different we are".

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" has previews on Thursday, Oct. 8 and Friday, Oct. 9 where tickets will go for $19. The official opening will be on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and go till Oct. 25 with tickets sitting at $32. If you're interested in purchasing tickets, you can go to CFRT's website for more details and possible discounts.
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