ESSEX — Despite a reduced cast size and social restrictions due to COVID-19, the Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre is making an emotional and climactic return to the stage, already selling out 11 of its 18 slated shows for the year. After over a year off the stage, Cockpit in Court is one of the first theaters in the area to come back, hosting nine shows each for the child actors and the more experienced adult actors.

The day that Cockpit in Court’s administrative manager Lisa Boeren, who has worked at the theater for 13 years, heard the news that she had received administrative approval to schedule the shows this year, she cried.

“I was ecstatic,” she said. “You don’t know what you miss. We are very excited to welcome our patrons back this year.”

The adult show, “And Then There Were None” – a 1943 play based on the mystery novel by Agatha Christie, started last week and runs for three weekends on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The child show, “Disney’s Moana Jr. — a 60-minute musical adaptation of the Disney animated film, will follow the same format schedule starting July 30.

Only 21 cast members ages 9-18 were announced for the Court Jester Young People’s Theatre, or children’s theatre, and several child actors are part of multiple ensembles due to cuts in cast size. Fortunately, the adult show only called for 10 cast members.

Four of the child shows and seven of the adult shows are already sold out, Boeren said.

Part of the reason the shows sold out, Boeren said, is due to the fact that the theater is social distance seating only 100 audience members in the theater at a time. Every audience member, theatre crew member and child actor must wear a mask at all times, though vaccinated adult cast members are permitted to perform without masks.

In past years, the theater has presented five shows in the summer, and last year, the theater held no shows. It had cast the adult show in 2020 following acting auditions early in the year and started holding rehearsals, but then the show was canceled due to the pandemic.

Most of the characters cast for the adult show stayed on to perform this year, and the other characters, along with the entire cast of “Moana,” were cast this year. Rehearsals for each show started in May over Zoom, and the casts did not rehearse in person until June, when restrictions were lifted.

Even amid all of the struggles that came with COVID-19, one advantage was that the crew had more time building set pieces for the show, which turned out “absolutely gorgeous,” Boeren said.

Although the child actors might not have as much experience as the adults, Cockpit in Court tries to make sure that the tickets to the shows are worth the cost, including with the integration of scenery, lights and sounds. Many of the children refine their acting skills and go on to perform in middle or high school theatre.

“It is a full production,” she said. “It is not your typical children’s theater. It is not parents going, ‘Oh, look – there’s Henry.’ We are a pretty good caliber theater.”

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