SALEM — Tim Kelley had never been less excited to talk to a cast in his life.
He and Laura Blackwell, his co-director for "Matilda," had been thrilled to find a way to keep their 38-person cast going even in a time of unprecedented isolation.
With the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis closed, they'd handed out dozens of webcams and set themselves up to do teleconference choreography from Kelley's home in Salem. The idea was to help with social distancing and keep people from possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus while still going on with the show.
It wouldn't be easy. The actors had been scheduled to hit the stage May 1, and no one really knew how effective remote rehearsals for a complicated Broadway musical would be. However, Kelley and Blackwell were eager to try, as were their cast members, who range in age from 6 to 50-something.
But that was the situation as of early in the day on March 16. By the evening of March 16, the picture looked very different. Gov. Kate Brown had signed an executive order banning all gatherings of more than 25 people for at least four weeks, and the Majestic had decided to cancel "Matilda" altogether.
March 16, 6:30 p.m., would have been the cast's first remote rehearsal. Instead, Kelley and Blackwell sat down in front of the webcam to deliver the blow.
"I'm not really looking forward to this stream," Kelley muttered to Blackwell.
Blackwell nodded. "They're probably not going to be surprised."
"God, seeing their faces."
The two had good news to give as well as bad, however. Kelley has his own drama nonprofit: Black Rose Theatre Company. He's president and Blackwell is vice president.
The company produced its first show, "The Drowsy Chaperone," almost exactly a year ago: March 28, 2019, at the Russell Tripp Performance Center at Linn-Benton Community College.
Audiences loved the goofy musical and the show turned a profit, giving Kelley enough to invest in a new production. When the Majestic made its decision, he was ready to take "Matilda" on himself.
"We don't want to see this show go away," Kelley told his cast members that night. "So we would like to postpone it, see where we're at later on in the next eight weeks."
If all goes well, Kelley said, he'll find a venue for "Matilda" somewhere for later this summer. Rehearsals will resume when, where and how it will be safe to hold them.
That may mean recasting some parts, Kelley acknowledged to his group. Some of them may already have summer plans they can't change. He asked them to take a few days, think about it and talk with their parents, "because it's going to be a little bit before we can get back together."
But that's the idea, the two promised. Both are veterans of community theater and created Black Rose to carry on just that mission.
Kelley, who lives in Salem, has been involved with theater since age 6. His uncle is friends with the owner of Missoula Children's Theater, a company that has been working with children and producing shows since the early 1970s.
Kelley's uncle, Don Kelley, owns a community theater group called Silverton Center Stage. He would bring the Missoula troupe to Silverton every summer so the local kids, including Tim, could get theater experience. Kelley's parents were hugely supportive, as was his uncle Phil Kelley, who would take him to plays at the Keller Auditorium in Portland.
"I had a lot of exposure to theater at a very early age," Kelley said. "So, in a way, this is all their fault."
Kelley grew up wanting to have a company just like his uncle's.
An information systems specialist for the state of Oregon — "just a slightly more professional way of saying 'IT guy,'" Kelley said — he does have to juggle a little to make things work.
"I live in South Salem, I work in Portland and I do theater in Corvallis/Albany. You can ask any director and they’ll agree that doing a musical is another full-time job," he said.
"The only way I’m able to balance the two is by working with an incredibly gifted production team and having stellar co-directors. We’ve developed a proven system that works and a cohesive team that really drives our productions forward."
Blackwell, also of Salem, is that co-director for "Matilda." She also works on theater projects in Corvallis and Albany and met Kelley on the set of "Beauty and the Beast" at Albany Civic Theater in 2010, the same show where Tim met his wife, Kimberley. He played Cogsworth, the clock, and Blackwell and Kimberley worked backstage.
The name of Kelley's company started as Oak Street Community Theater but changed to reflect the co-directors' shared history with ACT: "Black" for Blackwell and "Rose" for the enchanted rose that seals the fates of everyone in "Beauty and the Beast." In addition to Kelley and Blackwell, Kelley's wife, Kimberley, and his uncle Phil round out the board of directors.
"Tim and I have always been friends, and while I was in England for my master's, I would stay in touch about shows," Blackwell said. "I helped with casting for 'The Little Mermaid' (which Kelley directed at the Majestic in 2017), and he said, 'We should put on shows together.'"
"Matilda" is a personal favorite, so it's the perfect choice for the Black Rose's second outing, Blackwell said.
"I love the music. I love the music. I think it was a crying shame it didn't win the Tony," she said. "It's so clever and fun and quirky. A little dark, but I like that."
"Matilda" is told through the perspective of the titular character, an intelligent, creative little girl who lives with a family who is — well, not. She finds a kindred spirit in her teacher at school, Miss Honey, but both of them have to scramble to stay clear of the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.
"She and the teacher work to encourage themselves and each other to stand up against the bullies of the world," Blackwell said.
It's a show that makes Blackwell laugh no matter how many times she's heard the lines. It's a show, she said, she wants people to see.
Kelley said the company plans to purchase costumes, makeup and other materials from the Majestic to make things work. Jimbo Ivy, theater supervisor for the Majestic through Corvallis Parks & Recreation, said that's absolutely an avenue open to Kelley.
"They are are really determined to continue with it," Ivy said.
It can take several thousand dollars to put on a show, depending on the price for the rights and the technical complications. Kelley said he's expecting "Matilda" to come to between $5,000 and $10,000.
Donations are welcome — Kelley said he plans to put together an online fundraiser for the show — but with the proceeds from "Chaperone," he has enough to get going. And if it, too, is a success, he's looking next at the musical "Chicago," perhaps, and a Tennessee Williams drama, "Summer and Smoke."
First, however, everyone has to be safe, well and out from under quarantine.
"Unfortunately, we are at a point in rehearsals where we can't do eight weeks online. Two was pushing it," Blackwell told the listening cast members of "Matilda" on March 16.
However, she told the group, the production will get back underway — at some point.
"We want to do this with you guys. We want to do this for you guys," Blackwell said. "We're not going to cancel."
Added Kelley: "We're far too stubborn for that."
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