For almost a year, performers and theater lovers have sat at home dreaming of the creative outlet that local productions provide. To help fill that void, Spokane Civic Theatre is coming back to life with Civic Presents: Leading Ladies, a virtual show dedicated to the theater’s female stars past and present.
For the performers, getting back on stage can be a nerve-wracking experience after a year away. And while the show is prerecorded to maximize safety, it can still be challenging.
“I’m a little nervous,” says Abbey Crawford, who has performed at Spokane Civic since she was 19. “Two weeks ago I went in to rehearse, and not going to lie, I cried a bit going in. Theaters all smell the same, and they feel like home. The theater always feels like home. It was emotional and delightful.”
Crawford says she hasn’t performed live since last March, when she sang during Mardi Gras 2020 in New Orleans.
“I haven’t been that creative at all,” Crawford says of her pandemic life. “My daughter taught me some TikTok makeup tricks and from there I have been creating the ‘patron saints of the pandemic.’ I have saints of toilet paper, plastic gloves, snacks. My most recent was a saint of serotonin. I have also started needle quilting; I’ve created these felt things because I got to stab something for six hours, which is great for my anxiety and rage.”
Crawford has performed in many shows and teaches cabaret classes at the Civic. She heard about Leading Ladies from the theater’s creative director, Jake Schaefer, after doing a show in November.
“We started with a short list of women who have portrayed female principles in plays and musicals alike at Spokane Civic Theatre for the ages,” Schaefer says. “That gave us four or five legendary ladies. Then we went through the last handful of seasons and notated other females who played principles and reached out to all of the ladies on that list.”
The full cast includes 17 actresses who have spent three weeks rehearsing in anticipation of their filming slot before the Leading Ladies show is released online Friday.
“We struck gold with the amount of interest in the performance,” Schaefer says. “We put together some strict health and safety protocols and built a rehearsal schedule. We see one performer for two hours and then for an hour we clean in between.”
According to Schaefer, the theme was left simply at “leading ladies.” They allowed each performer to pick a song to be accompanied by piano that they believed exemplified that theme.
Crawford picked “Nobody’s Side” from the musical Chess. She chose it because of its first lines: “What’s going on around me is barely making sense, I need some explanations fast!” She says this song is perfect for the current climate and is ingrained in her from her youth.
“The show [Chess] is weird, but the music is fantastic,” Crawford says. “This song is about a woman who doesn’t need to wait for anyone to say things are OK, which is relatable with what we are dealing with now. You can’t count on the world, so just do whatever you want to do, which is my mantra now. I’m going to be 48 — I can allow myself the freedom to do what I want. I can still get up and sing and make my choices.”
While the filmed, virtually delivered experience is different than performing for a live audience, Crawford is still excited and grateful for the opportunity.
“All of the women who are in this show, we have all been leading women on Civic’s stage,” Crawford says. “I think it’s a fascinating group of women because we all dealt with some kind of thing. It’s hard to be on stage in front of people, and [yet] this is where we are most comfortable. It’s fantastic that Jake has given us this opportunity to be happy; it’s such a joyful thing to sing, and it’s going to be weird but I’m grateful.”
Article by Spencer Brown of the Inlander
Photo by Young Kwak