BY CORIE LYNN
For the Hays community, October is normally a time of football and homecoming, Oktoberfest fundraisers and pumpkin patches.
Though these traditional activities have met with change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, community members have done their best to continue these early fall activities. This includes the Hays Community Theatre’s Haunted Hays City Historic Tours.
Scheduled for the nights of Oct. 23 and 24, HCT Board member Jarrett Leiker explained the tours start at the HCT building and take groups on a walk through downtown where they will meet historic figures and witness mock gunfights.
“Along the way, there are different stations,” he said. “At some of the places, historical events took place, kind of like if you see the historical markers that are downtown and stuff. We re-enact some of the things that happened there.”
Though the tours are nights of fun for visitors and performances for local actors, the tours began with another purpose.
According to HCT Board Member and Haunted Tour organizer Sharona Fondoble, the tours originated as a fundraiser for the organization to build handicap-accessible bathrooms at their theater.
Because of the low-cost nature of the performances, as the script is provided by the local Ink Plot writing group and participants volunteer, the Haunted Tours remain the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
“Everybody volunteers, gathers 60 of our closest friends and, you know, go out and put on a whole show downtown,” Fondoble said.
These performances, however, have taken on a new importance for the HCT. The Haunted Tours will be the first event since the statewide shutdown last spring.
“[O]ur last performance was in February when we did ‘My Deadly Valentine,’ which was a Valentine-themed dinner theatre. And it’s October now, and we still have to pay the lights and the electricity and the rent,” said HCT Board member Andy Stanton.
Besides the worry of funding, the shutdown brought on by the coronavirus led to disappointment among the HCT actors, who were in the midst of rehearsals for their next show.
The board members explained they initially hoped the threat would pass, so they continued to rehearse via Zoom, even rescheduling and recasting parts.
With an increase in Hays coronavirus cases, they eventually canceled scheduled performances, giving two final ones to a small group of masked and socially distanced family members.
“That’s how we operate. We have special events, we have performances, we rent out our facility and we are a nonprofit organization. And we haven’t had the opportunity to have anything because of the COVID outbreak,” Stanton said.
Going forward, the Hays community can expect only outdoor performances and events from the HCT, for the safety of audience members and actors. This aspect of the Haunted Tours is why the theatre group is able to continue their performances.
“And we’re asking other people in the tour groups to wear masks because in the group you kind of have to be close together to listen and hear what’s going on,” Fondoble said. “But our actors will not be wearing masks because we’ll be outside, and it should be easy to keep at least 6 feet between the group and the actors.”
The weekend of Halloween, the HCT will host their second-annual showing of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ The board explained the outdoors made the event possible as well, as the showing will be at the downtown Hays pavilion, and guests will bring their own chairs and wear masks.
It’s essential for performance such as these to be moved outside as actors must project their voices to be heard. Stanton explained that adds to the risk of passing along the COVID-19 virus.
“Your airways can send a lot more of whatever virus, if you happen to have it, a lot further than just the 6 feet. We knew that, in order for safety for everybody involved, we needed to cancel all of our indoor performances until it was safe again,” he said.
Though the HCT has no further performances planned after Halloween, the board members emphasized the importance of supporting both the theatre and artists in general during the pandemic.
Community members can do so by volunteering for the Haunted Tours or making a tax-deductible donation to HCT. Support, though, is as simple as checking in with performers and artists.
“[Community members] need to make sure they’re following their favorite arts organizations on Facebook,” Stanton said. “They’re checking their websites, they’re checking in with their organizations to say, ‘How are you doing? This has been rough on all of us. What can we as a community do to help you?’ ”
He and the other board members believe the arts are important to communities for the vitality they provide and the way they bring people together.
“You get people from all walks of life that come in and be part of the shows or the tours or different things, that have that talent and enjoy doing it that maybe you wouldn’t normally think would do that. If we ever, God forbid, went under, there isn’t that avenue anymore,” Leiker said.
More information about supporting Hays Community Theatre as well as tickets for upcoming performances are available on its website.
The Haunted Hays City Historic Tours run 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 23 and 24, with tickets available for $10.
Tickets for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Oct. 30 and 31 are also $10 but include popcorn and a goody bag. Seating begins at 8 p.m., with the movie beginning at 8:30 p.m.