Love and Theatre in the Time of COVID

Sue and Tom Hornung met at The Candlelight Theatre in 1974 when they were both starring in a production of Cabaret. It was a fortunate collaboration, not just for the couple, who went on to marry and raise two daughters, but was also a boon for the theater where it all began.

The Hornungs are currently on the Board of Directors for The Candlelight, serving decades between them, with Tom serving as president of the board from 2013-17. They have working tirelessly behind the scenes to promote and maintain the venue. And, too, they have continued to tread the boards, including a reprise of Cabaret, where they took on older roles in the musical that so influenced their lifepaths.

Naturally, when The Candlelight Theater looked to reopen its doors after sacrificing an entire season’s worth of shows to COVID, the two were eager to play their parts in the revival.

“We were all ready. Our patrons are older, but they were the first to get their vaccines, and now they are anxious to come back,” said Sue Hornung, speaking from her home.

But how to open safely? That was the question to consider for performers, staff, and patrons alike.

“Everyone in the organization is taking it very seriously and have thought about safety from every angle,” said Sue, elaborating on many of the new protocols put in place. From auditioning and rehearsals to food prep and meal service — even getting patrons to and from the bathroom — the management of the Candlelight Theater has been methodical in its approach.

“We will offer seating for 50, one-third of our usual 150, which is lower occupancy than the state requires,” she continued. “We have a new air-filtration system, a new way of ushering people in the building. Actors will no longer be food servers. Food servers will be masked and gloved. This list goes on.”

It isn’t just physical protocols, COVID precautions guided the creative decisions as well. To decrease the risk of exposure, artistic director Bob Kelley specifically chose shows for the season that have small casts. He selected Clever Little Lies, a four-person comedy, as the season opener rather than a musical because singing carries with it the risk of airborne pathogens.

Casting Sue and Tom Hornung as the older husband/wife in the season opener also had its advantages. Not only are they veterans of the organization and understood all that was at stake, but they also live together, which minimized exposure in the cast/crew bubble.

“We get our temperature taken…get tested,” said Sue. “We have all been masked throughout the entire rehearsal process. We will finally take our masks off during production week when our last cast member is two weeks out from his second shot and has full immunization.”

The fact that The Candlelight is also a dinner theater was another hurdle. Management had to take all the precautions of a post-COVID restaurant as well as those for theaters. In a change from years past, diners will only be seated with members of their own party. Instead of its well-appointed buffet, the Candlelight will offer three entrées, including a vegetarian option, which will be served to the table along with drinks, salad, shrimp and dessert. According to the website, seconds will be available for anything on the menu. There is also an option for the opening Friday of every show to purchase “show-only” tickets.

For The Candlelight Theatre, which has not held an indoor show in more than a year, and for the Hornungs, who have not graced the Candlelight’s stage together in more than 15 years, April 23 is a big opening day. Running through May 23, Clever Little Lies, an adult comedy, showcases the intricate relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children.

From there, the season will build with two small-cast musicals. The Beehive (June 12-July 18) is a musical tribute to the women who influenced the music of the ‘60s. Ain’t Misbehaving (July 31-Aug. 29) celebrates the rise of jazz great Fats Waller with a score of rowdy, humorous songs.

In addition, the Candlelight will reinstitute Comedy Nights beginning May 20 ($30 per ticket). Quizzo trivia nights are also slated for a comeback and will be added to the schedule soon.

To read all the details and safety measures of the Candlelight’s reopening or to order tickets for shows and events, checkout their website at