By MICHAEL FRETT
NORTH HERO – The lights do not dim and there is no curtain to call, but as the first performers took to the mic Friday evening, it was clear theater had returned to Grand Isle County.
The Full Circle Theater Collaborative held its first fundraiser of the season on Friday, welcoming students and alumni to the stage for “An Evening Under the Stars” and what was, for many, the first live show since vaccinations cued the end of COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year.
Given the looming threat of rain, around 100 people crowded inside Island Arts’ Homer Knight Barn for what was advertised as a cabaret, a style of nighttime entertainment sitting audiences at tables and ensembles on stage.
While the definition of cabaret can incorporate a number of different performances, Friday’s event was strictly a musical affair, punctuated only by the occasional spikes of comedy and commentary from the evening’s three designated emcees.
“It’s an art form about singers having a conversation with an audience,” Gina Fearn, one of Full Circle Theater’s organizers, told The Islander from the sidelines of Friday’s concert. “It’s an opportunity to give a lot of our students a chance to perform.”
Perform they did.
Throughout the night, around a dozen singers took to the stage, offering takes on audience- and theater-friendly cuts that ranged from the spry to the serious and everywhere in between.
One singer took on a standout track from The Prom, a recent Broadway favorite and even more recent recipient of the Netflix treatment. Another offered lyrical warnings against romancing “navel-contemplating, floppy haired actors originally from Baltimore,” despite their city’s apparently cool aquarium.
All of the above won smiles and applause from their Friday evening audience.
There also seemed to be a sense of relief among members of the audience as they filed into Island Arts’ barn for what was, presumably, their first show since the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters and forced live performances onto Zoom.
The minutes before Friday’s show came with a steady stream of “welcome backs” and seemingly warm embraces. “Happy theater,” wished one visitor to another.
“We’re here in this barn and it’s lovely and beautiful, and we’re watching live music and theater,” Ryan Addario, one of Friday’s hosts, said in between songs to whoops of agreement from the audience. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching Top Chef for fifteen months and this is objectively better.”
According to Fearn, Friday’s show was intended as a fundraiser to help support the Full Circle Theater Collaborative, a theater group created during the height of the pandemic to support local children and teens interested in the theater arts COVID-19 effectively put on hold.
“We started our companies to meet the needs of the kids during the pandemic,” Fearn said, “and now we’re just running with it.”
Throughout last year’s season, the group had managed to stage practices and performances through Zoom before returning to the stage in October for a musical adaptation of Twelfth Night.
That show, performed for only a modest audience in Island Arts’ North Hero barn, was warmly welcomed by performers, according to Fearn. “When we got into this space, they were so thrilled to get together,” Fearn said. “[Theater] is so much more than just their art – it’s their community.”
The theater group is planning another pair of performances – one for preteens and middle-schoolers and another for high school and young adults – for the Homer Knight Barn later this summer, as well as setting aside scholarship funds for prospective theater students.
While Friday seemed to bring some nervousness from its performers, many who had graduated into professional careers likewise stymied by the pandemic, Fearn said there was also an excitement around returning to the stage.
“Theater is alive and well in Vermont,” she said. “We’re just getting going. We’re making it happen.”