The coronavirus pandemic is turning the Omaha Community Playhouse inside out.
For the first time ever, the theater will stage an outdoor show in its parking lot. That production, “Rave On! The Music of Buddy Holly,” premieres June 11 and runs through the end of the month.
It features popular Omaha musician Billy McGuigan, who originated the title role at the Playhouse in 2002. He’s also known for “Yesterday and Today,” a Beatles request show, and “Rock Twist,” a mix of pop, jazz and rock.
The show replaces “She Rocks,” featuring Tara Vaughan, which was set in the small Howard Drew Theatre, where social distancing wouldn’t be possible.
Parking stalls will be staggered, with spaces for 119 cars so people are safely separated, said Playhouse Artistic Director Kimberly Faith Hickman. The lot normally holds well over 200. The show will be Thursday through Sunday, June 11-14, on the first week, then June 17-21 and June 26-28. It starts at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays and 7:30 p.m. every other day, and is about 90 minutes long.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a large parking lot. A lot of arts venues don’t have that,” Hickman said.
Alternative programming during the pandemic has been an ongoing topic at the Playhouse. Four online productions already are available on the theater’s website.
“When we found out the Playhouse was going to need to close, we started brainstorming how we could take shows from the inside to the outside,” Hickman said.
Vaughan’s show had some elements they weren’t sure would translate to an outdoor show. The Buddy Holly show, they decided, was perfect with its 1950s drive-in vibe.
Holly was on his way to rock ’n’ roll superstardom in the decade before he died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959.
McGuigan has portrayed him about 2,500 times over a nearly 20-year career.
He’s happy to do it again, Hickman said.
“He’s game for anything. He gave us a very enthusiastic yes and said he would do whatever we needed him to do.”
A lot goes into mounting an outdoor show, she said, especially when you’ve never done it before. Many Playhouse staffers haven’t, though some have with other theaters.
Equipment and the weather are the biggest issues, she said. If it rains, shows will go into a delay, and if it persists, they will be canceled. Refunds or rescheduling come into play if shows end too prematurely or don’t happen at all.
The Playhouse worked with the City of Omaha to obtain a permit for the event and will send letters about what to expect to its closest neighbors.
Paperless tickets are $35, and each person in the car must have one. Playhouse staffers will check in patrons as they enter the lot. Spaces are first-come, first-served. Larger vehicles will be assigned to spots so everyone will be able to see.
Two off-duty police officers will direct street traffic going into the Playhouse lot.
Patrons can bring chairs to sit outside their cars. They must set them up on the driver’s side to ensure social distancing, and masks are encouraged if you plan to leave your vehicle.
Hickman said she’s pleased to be able to offer safe programming in the middle of the pandemic.
“I’m really excited for this. It’s a positive escape,” she said, “Art and music is an important part of making people feel connected. We hope people will come out.”