The Westcoast Black Theater Troupe has been trying to produce artistic director Nate Jacobs’ original musical “Ruby” for two years, but COVID-19 is forcing theaters and audiences to wait longer to see it.
The musical which was originally scheduled to open in 2020 and then delayed to this month has now been cancelled, at least for now.
“We are just heartbroken. It’s depressing to have to start over,” executive director Julie Leach said Thursday when announcing the production’s cancellation.
Positive COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated cast and crew forced a two-week delay in opening, which has been postponed to January 29. But more positive breakthrough cases led Jacobs and Leach to cancel the production.
“Every time we have a case you have to break rehearsals for five days and you just can’t finish the show. It’s too complex a show for us to do for this time in the world,” Leach said. “We have 20 cast members and 10 people behind the scenes and there are too many contacts to handle the current outbreak.”
For now, the company plans to complete rehearsals and make an archival film recording to use as a reference for what was done to help with future production, she said. The actors will then return home, and the theater will bring in a much smaller group of performers for the upcoming Broadway in Black musical revue, which is scheduled to open March 10. Two one-act performances will follow the musical.
“We want to reduce the complexity of our operations,” Leach said. “It’s the first step for this year, to prevent actors from being on top of each other when we’re playing one show and rehearsing another at the same time.”
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Society members are tested twice a week and Leach said none of those who tested positive had become seriously ill. “Some people had cold and flu symptoms,” she said.
Jacobs and his brother Michael, an attorney who lives in Washington, DC, wrote the musical about Ruby McCollum, a prominent black woman who was convicted of murdering Dr. C. Leroy Adams, a physician and newly elected state senator in Live Oak, Florida, in the 1950s. McCollum later claimed that the youngest of her four children was the result of a nonconsensual relationship with Adams. Nate Jacobs said it was impressive that in a time when a black convict in such a case could have been killed, McCollum survived after spending time in a mental institution and had some sort of free life before he died .
The case received national attention and was covered by prominent writer Zora Neale Hurston.
In a statement, Jacobs said he was “extremely disappointed that we won’t be able to feature ‘Ruby’ at this time, but I’m grateful we had the opportunity to move production further down the road. .”
The theater will offer refunds to patrons for the lost show. For more information: 941-366-1505; westcoastblacktheatre.org
Leach said she was hesitant to project a date when the show could finally be brought to live audiences.
“We will when a show of this size and complexity can be done safely. It will depend on the conditions,” Leach said. “Maybe we can do it in June, if the conditions are good again in the country, like last spring. Maybe we can bring that cast back if they’re available and have the inclination. We will do “Ruby”. We are committed to ‘Ruby.’ It’s an incredible beautiful story and we just want to do it justice with a good production.