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Sometimes actors have to think on their feet, adapting to a dropped line or a missed cue. Sometimes the curveballs thrown at them are even bigger, such as a prop that fails.

Like everyone else, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre people have had to adapt to the coronavirus, and they plan to reinvent what the live theater experience might look like as the center looks to reopen with an abbreviated season of three live productions — two that reflect social issues at the forefront of the national consciousness.

Closed since March, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre announced that it will present three plays with small casts that can be performed with social distancing on stage for the actors' safety. It will also limit the audience capacity to 30%.

"This return to live theater is what we've been looking forward to," said Executive Director Rodney Van Valkenburg, "but in a new reality where safety is as inherent to the theatre experience as the action on the stage. Our patrons can be confident in the safety protocols we have put in place so they can focus on what's important — simply having a good time."

The center's 2020-2021 season, which was set to open in September, has been postponed to 2021-2022. Unlike that lineup, this new series includes no musicals, as singing puts actors at greater risk of exposure. Instead, the theater will present three non-musical plays that will mark a return to production for the first time since it shut down in March.

"We feel compelled to tell stories again," Van Valkenburg said. "Theater is a path through challenging times, and its absence amplifies the fears that we're all experiencing. We expect this return to live theater will be very meaningful to our audiences."

The series opens on Sept. 25 with "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years." It will run through Oct. 11 and is a heartwarming, two-person play by Emily Mann adapted from a bestselling book that reveals the oral history of two African-American civil rights pioneers who were born in the late 19th century.

Often funny and sometimes thought-provoking, it is the story of the Delany sisters from the Reconstruction and progressing through the rise of Jim Crow, two world wars, the triumphs of Black culture during the Harlem Renaissance, the civil and women's rights movements, up to the present.

"When we contemplated when and how we would reopen our doors, we wanted a story that demanded to be told," Van Valkenburg said. "'Having Our Say' is that story. It's exceedingly timely given the current national reckoning with how we see race. It's a guide through this critical moment in American life."

"Lobby Hero" is the next offering. Kenneth Lonergan's acclaimed Broadway hit is a blend of comedy, drama and romance that follows a luckless young security guard who is drawn into a murder investigation. As his exacting supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother, and a rookie cop finds she must stand up to her seasoned partner, truth becomes elusive and justice costly. References to sexism, racism, and police abuse of authority are especially timely.

It opens Nov. 6 and runs through Nov. 22.

The final production is "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" by Joe Landry. Frank Capra's beloved holiday classic film is adapted for the stage as a 1940s radio broadcast, with an ensemble cast of five playing a few dozen characters to tell the story of the idealistic George Bailey. It's a fresh and inventive way of reconnecting with a classic story of love and redemption.

It will run Dec. 4 through Dec. 20.

Van Valkenburg expects the center will announce a spring series in November.

The theater center consulted national, state and local authorities, as well as other theaters across the country, to develop its safety policies, he said. Attendance at performances will be capped at 30% in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's 380-seat mainstage theater, where restricted seating for 100 or less will allow the theater to exceed recommended standards for social distancing. At least three seats— or more than 6 feet — will be left vacant between parties.

Traffic flow at entrances, exits and restrooms will be managed to prevent crowding. Required face coverings, temperature checks, touchless ticket transactions and disinfecting between performances are among other prescribed measures.

"We developed these safeguards to strike a balance between protecting the well-being of our audiences and providing a theater experience that is enjoyable," Van Valkenburg said. "These safety protocols are extensive, but we feel that they are not so restrictive that our patrons cannot enjoy a visit to the theater. In fact, we believe that it is because of these restrictions that patrons will be able to enjoy a visit to the theater."

Details on the safety protocols the theater center will follow can be found at TheatreCentre.com/SafetyCTC.

For safety purposes, tickets must be bought at least 24 hours before performances, as no walk-ups are permitted. For tickets, call the Chattanooga Theatre Centre box office at 423-267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com.

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