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Gig workers cope with virus crisis

As Southern Oregon grapples with a wide range of shutdowns across many sectors of society because of the coronavirus pandemic, Rogue Valley actors, musicians and gig workers are scrambling to cope with the new realities.

Theaters have shuttered temporarily, with company members not sure when the curtains will rise again. Music performance venues have closed, putting musicians and bands out of work. And gig workers like those who deliver food, provide taxi service or teach piano lessons are feeling the pinch.

For some, it’s a matter of biding their time. For others, the disruption is causing severe financial distress.

Michael J. Hume, in his 27th season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is appearing this year in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which opened March 1, and in “The Tempest,” which was scheduled to open May 26 in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. OSF theaters went dark March 12.

“Exercising is a great way to cope,” he said. “They shut the YMCA, so that’s out. My son, Paul, and I are gathering all our core balls and weight plates, creating a mini-gym at my house.”

He says he walks the dogs in empty neighborhoods and at Emigrant Lake and watches a bit too much news. But rehearsals are out.

“Writers can write alone, musicians can practice alone, dancers can hit the barre alone, but theater by nature is a communal gathering, which is what everyone is avoiding right now,” he said.

He says he checked in with OSF pals who were working at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and at the Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk, and all have been sent home.

“I’m doing a great deal of communicating with folk I’ve been procrastinating with, phone calls and emails,” Hume said, “and that’s a solid plus. I only allow myself one old movie a day, because that way madness lies.”

His wife, Katie, is a hospice social worker, and she’s still working, so he cooks a lot of dinners. His grad school daughter is thinking about coming home, so he’s probably facing hauling a garage load of things to Goodwill or the landfill to make room, he said.

“I can’t wait to complain about learning lines again!”

Tyrone Wilson, in his 26th season at OSF, has roles this season in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which opened Feb. 28, and in “The Tempest.”

He says he’s spending his time off at home with family and gathering with friends in outdoor spaces.

“Our regular Monday hiking group includes a combination of locals and OSF folks,” he said.

Musicians’ opportunities have dried up, but some have other jobs, helping ease the financial crunch. Greg Frederick of the Rogue Suspects says several of his band mates have other gigs.

“Shae Celine works at the Ashland Food Co-op,” he said. “Don Harris is working on film scores, Dirk Price and his wife, Jane, own Tree House Books and are delivering books to children in Ashland. And Bret Levick is writing TV projects.”

“The best way people can support us and other musicians is to book shows for the future,” Frederick said. “We know that we will want to do benefit shows to help the community as soon as we are able to gather again. We accept down payments and retainers for future shows.” For information, email roguesuspects@gmail.com.

Nova McCarthy, a woman of many trades, bakes and markets cookies under the “Auntie Mama” brand, teaches piano lessons, and is a licensed substitute teacher — all impacted by the virus crisis.

The piano lessons are continuing. She sent a message to all parents and students that the teaching space and restroom have had a deep clean and all surfaces are cleaned daily, throughout the day.

“I have all students wash their hands before and after their lesson,” McCarthy said, “and provide each with their own laundered hand towel to use. The piano keys are wiped down with soap and water every day, and hand sanitizer is kept within reach, as it always has been.”

The cookie biz has taken a big hit.

“All wholesale orders have been canceled through May,” she said. “Additionally, April is the biggest event month of the year for me (where she sells her goodies). All events in April and the first of May have been canceled.”

She is offering free delivery on all cookies, pies and ice cream sandwiches ordered within the Rogue Valley, with some exceptions. Orders can be placed on her Facebook page, AuntieMama Cookies, or by calling or texting 541-816-9229.

Meanwhile, she is trying to jumpstart her tutoring business as a member of the American Tutoring Association, offering reduced rates through May for helping students in English, reading, writing and history. Her contact number for tutoring is 541-646-2241.

“I am hopeful that the financial aid that has been discussed reaches those of us who need it,” she said. “Above all, I’m trying to remain calm, knowing that it will not always be this way.”

Thor Polson, who performs with his jazz trio, teaches piano lessons and tutors in classical languages, is waiting to see how things shake out.

“The trio (with Theresa McCoy and Mark Hamersly) had been performing every other Saturday morning at La Baguette Music Café,” Polson said, “but those gigs have been suspended for April at the very least. The trio is booked to perform June 13 at The Old Siskiyou Barn, but we’re playing that by ear, not knowing if that will proceed as scheduled.”

Some parents are waiting until May to have their children resume piano lessons, while a few students have continued.

“Once the infection rate flattens, I think business will return to normal quickly,” Polson said. Those interested in language studies or piano lessons can call him at 541-482-2304.

Besides OSF, other theaters that have closed temporarily include Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Randall Theatre Company, Camelot Theatre, Craterian Theatre, Teen Musical Theater of Oregon, and Collaborative Theatre Project.

The Cabaret in Ashland is delaying the opening of “The Spitfire Grill,” originally scheduled to debut April 2.

“Luckily, ‘Spitfire Grill’ is a small cast show. We are doing what we can with our small group to get the next show ready when it’s safe to open,” said co-owner Valerie Rachelle.

Planning for the 2021 season is underway. “We’re looking at shows that will help our community feel uplifted, productions to inspire and entertain in a year of rebirth,” she said.

“With our daughter out of school, we are also doing our best to keep up with her. We had a tap lesson in the kitchen yesterday.”

Purchase tickets for future Oregon Cabaret performances online or call 541-488-2902.

The Randall Theatre in Medford has postponed its production of “I Do! I Do!” until further notice, hoping to reschedule the musical.

A nonprofit company, it relies on ticket sales and donations to survive. To donate or for more information, call 541-632-3258.

Remaining performances of “A Little Night Music” at Talent’s Camelot Theatre have been canceled. Performances of “The Spotlight on Bette Midler” will be rescheduled, once the theater reopens.

“We are asking patrons for their support,” said Camelot Executive Director Dan Hauser, “by donating canceled performance tickets back to the theater and by making separate donations while the theater remains dark.”

In return, Camelot will send donors a “Theater Strong” wristband and pin to wear as a show of support for live theater. Donors will be recognized in the playbill. For more information, contact the theater online or call 541-535-5250.

Collaborative Theatre Project of Medford has postponed its production of “Our Town,” planning to remount it as soon as conditions permit. Ticket holders will be given priority when the new schedule is announced.

Tickets for the CPT’s performances purchased through Brown Paper Tickets can be refunded by contacting that agency, or the ticket amount can be donated to CPT. For more information, go online or call 541-779-1055.

Medford’s Craterian Theatre announced it will be dark until about May 10.

“We will continue to revise our schedule according to the most recent health care guidelines,” said Stephen McCandless, executive director.

“Our box office will be reaching out to current ticket holders to offer refunds in the event of cancellations, and ticket transfers in the event of postponements,” he said.

The box office will be staffed during regular business hours for phone orders at 541-779-3000, and phone order fees will be waived during the interim. Tickets are also available online.

Teen Musical Theater of Oregon canceled remaining March performances at the Craterian.

Jim Flint is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

courtesy photo Nova McCarthy of Medford teaches piano lessons, sells cookies, and substitute teaches--all hit by the corona virus crisis.