MADISON — Pandemic or no pandemic, the show must go on.

Such is the case at Lakewood Theater, on the shores of Lake Wesserunsett in Madison, where the oldest continuously running summer theater in the country opened for the season Thursday.

But instead of featuring nine shows, including a mix of comedy, drama and musicals, Lakewood is offering four comedies, a decision aimed at providing light entertainment during an otherwise-frightening time.

“It is pretty exciting, a little scary,” said Susan Quinn, president of Curtain Up Enterprises, a not-for-profit corporation that operates the theater. “We’re doing everything we can do to keep things safe but there’s always that little bit of doubt.”

Quinn said that on opening night Thursday, with the performance of “Opening Night,” by Norm Foster, patrons were appreciative.

“They said, ‘Thank you, thank you for opening’ and such, so we think we’re doing the right thing,” Quinn said. “We like to think we’re an essential service in that people need entertainment. They need to get out. They need to laugh. That’s our diagnosis. We need laughing.”

The theater seats 400, but during this season, only 50 patrons are allowed in the audience at one time, and they are spaced 6 feet apart unless they arrive in families of four, for instance, and then they are seated together. Across the lane from the theater, the Lakewood Inn restaurant is able to seat 45 at one time.

Patrons entering the theater are required to wear face coverings, but masks are available if they forget to bring them, according to Quinn, whose husband, Jeffrey, is the theater’s general manager and artistic director. Their daughter, Katie, manages the Lakewood Inn and their son, Matthew, is a former technical director.

“The restaurant’s been doing quite well,” Susan Quinn said. “We’re doing well enough. I’m not going to say we have it tough, because other businesses are closing.”

Theatergoers gather Saturday outside Lakewood Theater in Madison. Michael G. Seamans Buy this Photo

The family has run the nonprofit theater for 35 years.

Lakewood Theater opened in 1901 and initially featured Broadway and off-Broadway shows, drawing actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Vincent Price and Ethel Barrymore. In the 1970s, John Travolta, Peggy Cass, Milton Berle and Lana Turner performed at the theater, staying on the grounds for a week at a time.

Audiences are eager to attend this season, according to Susan Quinn.

“Sunday and Wednesday matinees are sold out for two shows and almost sold out for the third show,” she said Thursday. “I don’t know if we’ll get 50 every night, but I think we’re going to be pretty close to capacity.

“We know we’re not going to do well monetarily, but we’ve gotten donations. People have been very, very generous, so we can pay the mortgage and the light bill. Every ticket we can sell is cash that will help us open next year.”

Theater officials have been careful with purchases this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. They are reusing materials from former shows instead of buying new.

“The box office computer died and we looked at getting a new one. It was going to be $700, $800,” she said. “My laptop has a ticket program on it, so Nancy Carbone (box office manager and actress) and I decided to share it. It’s a little inconvenient, but it saved us money.”

The theater did buy special misting equipment to sanitize the auditorium. Actors do not wear masks onstage, but they social distance and turn their faces away from other actors when possible.

This season, patrons must call the box office at 207-474-7176 to buy tickets, which may not be obtained by ordering online. Ushers wear masks or face shields, the latter allowing their smiles to be seen as they greet patrons, according to Susan Quinn.

Auditions were held in the spring, and most actors who were cast decided to remain, although about four bowed out citing

concerns for the health of family members during the pandemic, she said.

Members of the staff wait at the ticket podiums Saturday before a performance at Lakewood Theater in Madison. Michael G. Seamans Buy this Photo

Susan Quinn said it was important to try to open the theater this season for the actors, staff and patrons.

“We’re keeping the old girl going as long as we can,” she said, “and we’re looking at the future.”

The theater and inn are at 76 Theater Road, off U.S. Route 201, in Madison.

“Opening Night,” directed by Stan Pinnette, continues this week with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The Wednesday matinee is sold out.

“Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van,” directed by Jeffrey Quinn, is scheduled for performances at 8 p.m. on Aug. 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29, and 7 p.m. on Aug. 26. The Aug. 26 matinee is sold out.

“Something Fishy,” also directed by Jeffrey Quinn, is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, and 12; 4 p.m. on Sept. 6; and 2 p.m. on Sept 9.

Also directed by Quinn, “But Why Bump Off Barnaby?” is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26, and 4 p.m. on Sept. 20. The Sept. 23 matinee is sold out.

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