‘Velveteen Rabbit’ provides a special pandemic connection | Entertainment
The stage at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater, like the stages of many venues, went dark in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the lights recently returned to the Playhouse, with some changes and precautions in place. Playhouse Studio production “The Golden Girls 3 — The Curse of Jessica Fletcher” opened Thursday, Nov. 12 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 22. “The Velveteen Rabbit” Theater for Young Audiences opened Saturday, Nov. 21 and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19. Jacob Marley’s “Christmas Carol” will run on the Mainstage Friday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 20.
Stephanie Allee, of Chambersburg, Pa., currently stars as Dorothy in “The Golden Girls 3” and will play three different roles in ‘The Velveteen Rabbit” when it opens on Saturday.
“The theater is trying limit the number of people in the casts to keep them small in an effort to maintain social distancing,” Allee said.
Among the five member-cast of “The Velveteen Rabbit” is her daughter, 17-year-old Emma Allee. Stephanie will play Nana, Timothy the Soldier, and a Dancing Rabbit, while Emma portrays the Velveteen Rabbit. Also in the cast are Dylan Spiers as the Boy, Charlee McNeil as the Skin Horse, and Ella Snyder as Toy Boat, Doctor, and a Dancing Rabbit.
The play is adapted from the classic children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams, which Stephanie Allee describes as the story of a boy and his stuffed rabbit.
“The rabbit wants to become real and the boy imagines that the rabbit receives enough love and encouragement that the animal becomes real in the boy’s eyes,” she said.
Beyond that, she did not want to “give the story away.”
Though neither Stephanie nor Emma Allee was familiar with the story prior to the production, both characterized it as a “sweet children’s tale.”
“If definitely took a turn,” Emma said. “I thought it was going to end a little bit different, but I was glad. I like the way it ends.”
Children’s theater productions are geared for children ages three and older. They tend to run less than an hour and they include child-friendly lunches.
“It’s a great way to spend a late morning, early afternoon with the kids in the family,” Stephanie said. “We have a lot of parents who bring their kids, grandparents who bring their grandchildren. It’s sweet.”
“The Velveteen Rabbit” deals with themes of becoming real through the process of connection, an idea with which many audience members and cast member alike might relate during the pandemic.
Stephanie, who has a degree in vocal performance from Immaculata University near Philadelphia, Pa., said Emma first saw her in a show when Emma was eight years old.
“She was bit by the bug and she has been performing since,” she said.
Emma said theater is “one of her favorite things to do,” and that it has been hard not being onstage for the the last eight or nine months.
“My year is usually performance after performance after performance. This year has been very different, very boring,” Emma said. “I’m just very happy that I have this opportunity to be onstage with everything that is going on.”
Stephanie said she also is happy to be back onstage, “even with changes.”
“The rehearsal process has been quick. We learned as many lines as possible outside of the theater to minimize the amount of time we spend together,” she said.
Each of the actors wears a clear, hard plastic face mask throughout performances.
“It’s not only for us, but for the patrons,” Stephanie said. “It doesn’t really block our faces but it still provides protection as we talk. I was hesitant, but then I was like, ‘Oh. That’s great.’”
Actors do need to project a little more than they usually would, she said, but the clear plastic is “not as muffling as a cloth mask would be.”
The theater has not retuned to full capacity in order to accommodate social distancing.
Wait staff at the dinner theater wear masks and gloves. Audiences are asked to wear masks except for when they are eating and drinking. The theater is serving cafeteria-style dinners to comply with recommended guidelines, and guests approach the hot service line with their party only to avoid mixing with other people.
“Everyone has been so appreciative and grateful, I think, to be out of the house, and everybody seems to enjoy the show,” Stephanie said. “It’s nice to perform for an audience again.”