Camille Playhouse adapts, offers online shows

With popcorn, chocolates, sodas and chips, hundreds of community members would anxiously wait for the lights to go off at the Camille Playhouse, as they sat in the red seats at the beginning of each show to experience live the magic of watching a famous play with local artists.

West Side Story, Sylvia and Disney’s Beauty and Beast were just a few of the plays the local theater brought to its stage last season. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, the playhouse decided to create a new way of offering art by hosting its “Live from a living room: A cabaret series” where artists who live in the Rio Grande Valley and all over the country showcase their talent.

“We want to say that we do have a season but we can’t invite you back in yet because we are not allowed to and we don’t want to put anybody in danger,” Board Member Sylvia Lester said in an interview.

“All of them are online, anybody can watch them at any given time. If anybody missed one you can just click on it and there it is. … Support the arts, Camille has been in the park for 56 years. Anything that anybody sends me that it’s going to be a virtual performance I watch, even if I watch just for a little while because it’s so important. It’s important for the children that are participating and all of ours have been adults but they’ve given their whole heart because they have put it together.”

The cabaret series has been happening weekly since April on the Camille Playhouse Facebook page and on its official website. They started as a way for the playhouse to offer something for the community to continue enriching them with art but at the same time as a way to raise funds for its GoFundMe to continue paying for the theater’s basic necessities.

“There was no money coming in because we couldn’t do shows, we couldn’t do anything. We didn’t want to put our performers in danger, we didn’t want to put our audiences in danger because it was so easy at that point so we had to find a way to deserve the GoFundMe,” Lester said. “It is kind of how we looked at it, we needed to put something out there, we cannot just be out there with our hands out.”

Robin Gelfer Pierce, a board member on and off for 20 years, said the most important part is to keep the theater going in this hard time and to be able to reopen and have live theater once the opportunity presents itself.

“The importance of the cabaret is a way to keep us in the forefront of people’s minds and to hopefully receive some donations by us presenting these cabarets from present and past performers,” she said.

“I am not an actress but I appreciate it and I am a very enthusiastic audience member and I think culture is very important to have in this area, we have a lot, but to bring things that people may not experience because they don’t get to travel to New York or see one of the traveling Broadway shows.”

She added it is important for this area to continue having arts because it also helps the artists to showcase their talent and they do it for the love of art.

“It keeps people happy and it gives them appreciation for the arts in one way or another. Whether they are an enthusiastic audience member like me, or maybe they’ll learn about theater and will have more of an interest and audition for something or somehow get involved because there is more than just what you see on the stage,” Glfer Pierce said.