SHERIDAN — After spending an extra five months in unexpected rehearsal, this year’s performance of “Into the Woods” will be especially spectacular, said WYO Performing Arts and Education Center Executive Director Erin Butler.

“There’s something about this particular year and because of everything that’s happening, these people have had the chance to practice at home way more than anyone else would have,” Butler said. “[They] also have a very strong desire to make this a really fantastic experience because they are so appreciative that they get to do it.”

What was initially scheduled as a May WYO Theater and Sheridan Civic Theatre Guild co-production was pushed to October as the WYO gala’s headline performance due to pandemic cancellations and closures.

The WYO recently announced the annual gala fundraiser will not go forward as planned this year. Instead, the WYO will host an online auction fundraiser in November with locally-made products and if possible, the theater performance will go forward on its own in October.

Gala Committee Chairperson Cheri Wilson said a tough decision to cancel the event was necessary as the committee could not find an appropriate balance of safety and festivity during a public health crisis. Pending pandemic status in October, if the production proceeds, a limited number of attendees will experience a “much needed theatrical opportunity,” she said.

After meeting with stakeholders involved in the event — considering movement between dinner and performance sites, seating and crowd management — the gala’s typically revelrous atmosphere lay just out of reach.

“At the end of that conversation, we all just came to the decision that we wouldn’t be able to do that safely and it was fairly irresponsible to even attempt,” Butler said.

Rather than disappointing community expectations, the WYO once again adapted to unforeseen circumstances brought by 2020 and redefined fundraising plans, though the online auction in November will not bring as much into the performing arts center as far as fundraising dollars compared to the gala.

The “Into the Woods” cast is eager to take the stage and perform the show after months of rehearsal, enjoying each other’s company and creating their art, Butler said. Cast members always contribute substantial focus and effort to their work but given the extra time, vocals are solid.

“Into the Woods” lead actor Dan Cole said the audience will observe the extra practice pay off on stage as actors contributed more to their roles than time typically permits in a standard rehearsal season. Backed by a strong musical director at the helm, the cast has grown musically by a substantial margin, he said.

With eye-grabbing moving set pieces and age range of actors from young children to senior citizens, Cole said, “It’s going to be definitely a surreal experience.”

Implementing COVID-19 safety protocols on stage has been a challenge, Butler said, and cast members must accept a certain level of risk to continue their participation. Health checks at the beginning of rehearsal, temperature-taking, smaller rehearsal groups, masking and physical distancing provide some security but inevitably, theater brings people into close quarters.

Despite those adjustments, though, Butler and Cole said participants are eager to return to the stage.

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