The County Seat Theater was busily preparing for the Dec. 3, opening of "A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play" when Governor Tim Walz's dial-back announcement came last week.

"We'd been planning to have live performances and now we can't have people in the theater besides our actors," said general manager Joel Soukkala. "But we'd been planning to have the show be available on-demand online, so now we're just shifting our focus entirely to that."

Walz's order prohibits dine-in service at restaurants and also forced public pools, gyms, fitness and dance studios, theaters and bowling alleys to close to patrons for four weeks. The order expires on Dec. 18.

In the event more restrictive lockdown orders come, Soukkala said they filmed a rehearsal last Friday, in case they can't get another recording ready before the digital premiere date of Dec. 9.

"We wanted to at least get that one under our hat," Soukkala said.

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The theater is planning to shoot a final version in the next week or so. The show will be available online from Dec. 9-13 and Dec. 23-25. Viewers can purchase tickets from a link on the theater's website and Facebook page that will take them to the Broadway on Demand website. Tickets are $9.99 for single viewers and $14.99 for families. Once purchased, viewers will have 24 hours to view the show.

Soukkala said they're planning more on-demand shows in the coming year.

"All the shows we've selected for 2021, we have the capability either livestream or have them available on-demand," Soukkala said. "And that's also why you won't see many big family productions or musicals on the schedule. We're trying to plan for the worst, in many cases."

This production tells the well-known Charles Dickens tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, but in a different format than viewers might be familiar with. The six actors in the show play actors performing a radio rendition of "A Christmas Carol" in the 1940s.

Actors in County Seat Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play" rehearse on Friday, Nov. 20. (Photo courtesy of County Seat Theater)
Actors in County Seat Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play" rehearse on Friday, Nov. 20. (Photo courtesy of County Seat Theater)

The setting is due to COVID-19, so the actors could be separated and stationary, Soukkala said.

"We changed this aspect of it so that we could be safe and we could replace someone, if necessary, if they got sick," Soukkala said.

The Christmas raffle has also moved online. Normally the theater holds a Christmas cookie raffle during the show as a fundraiser. Instead of cookies, this year the theater will raffle off artwork from local artists on its Facebook page.

Between the on-demand performance and artwork raffle, Soukkala said he's hoping to close the theater season on a high note.

"Christmas is usually our biggest revenue-maker for the year, so we're hoping we can end the year with a little bit of help," he said. "Between donations and grants, we're running at a zero budget for the year, which is great considering the year we've had. But it does make looking at the next year a little scary."

Nevertheless, Soukkala said he is optimistic about continuing to provide theater to the area.

"We're adjusting as we go. We're still making theater and art happen. We're just learning new ways of doing things," Soukkala said.