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Chance Theater, like many arts groups in Orange County, has endured a tough year while the pandemic raged: canceled shows, disappearing revenue, staff layoffs, emergency fund drives.
But the plucky Anaheim Hills theater company responded creatively with virtual performances and audience-participation events.
And on Tuesday night, Chance received some extremely good news: It won a major Ovation Award for “Fun Home,” its last staged production before the theater canceled the rest of its 2019-20 season a year ago. The award, for “Best Production of a Musical — Intimate Theatre,” marked the fourth Ovation honor in that category for the Chance. Its production of “Fun Home” had been nominated for a total of five Ovations.
The Ovation Awards, established in 1989, are the most prestigious theater honors in Southern California.They are the only peer-judged theater awards in the region.
“Fun Home” is a musical adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 autobiographical memoir. It tells the poignant story surrounding Bechdel’s discovery of her sexuality, her relationship with her father, and her struggle to decipher the many mysteries of his life. The Broadway production won five Tony Awards, including best musical.
“We are so proud of this production,” said Casey Long, one of Chance Theater’s co-founders. “Our director Marya Mazor really tried hard to heighten the intimacy and impact of the production, which is such a personal and moving family story. She wanted the audience to feel like they were actually in the house with the Bechdel family. We also reached out to the community to get really special speakers to participate. We have conversations with the audience after every performance, but for this show I felt it was especially important to reach out and make them even more meaningful.”
Long acknowledged that the Ovation nominees all came from a shortened season this year, so there were fewer shows in the running than usual. “There weren’t as many shows, and that’s true of (Chance) as well.”
The Ovation Awards are very competitive nevertheless, Long said.
“There was still some amazing talent and productions up for awards this year. It’s always such an honor to have our artists be recognized alongside nationally recognized artists. For the acting and directing awards, they don’t categorize small vs. large theater. We’ve been up against Tony Award winners and people who have produced shows on Broadway. (Winning an Ovation Award) makes us feel like part of the bigger social theater community.”
Buoyed by Pleasant Surprises
Coming as the pandemic at last appears to be waning, Chance’s Ovation Award adds a bright note to a daunting year for the theater.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster,” Long said. “We take every opportunity we can to get funding from local, state and federal governments. We’ve been fortunate to have some really amazing friends that have stepped up over the last year. There’s a campaign that kicked off a year ago where some very generous people put forward a matching gift to help us cover our operating expenses for the unknown amount of time that we had to be closed.”
Despite the help, keeping a full staff has been difficult.
“There was a time when the entire staff was furloughed,” Long said. “Then we went back to five, but three have again been furloughed temporarily. We’re rolling with the punches and trying to stay positive.”
Despite these financial troubles, pleasant surprises buoyed the theater company and kept its staff motivated throughout the year, Long said.
“What we’ve learned is that people do want to connect virtually. That is something that has been consistent over the last year. Once we had to close our doors, we asked ourselves, ‘How do we continue to serve our community?’ We started offering things online and expected a few people to show up. Well, a lot of people showed up, and they continued to show up for months and months and months. We feel like that kind of engagement now is part of the culture. There are even people who have called into our events from New York and Florida.”
Long is moved by the comments he hears from fans of Chance Theater. “It’s very heartening to hear people talk about how they missed us and the connection they feel when they come into our theater. It’s really fortified our resolve.”
Paul Hodgins is the founding editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.