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The show must go on: JRT prepares to open with new safeguards



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When the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre kicks off  the “1940s USO Show” this July, song and dance won’t be the only things taking center stage. 

“The big thing going through it that I feel is very important is: We are still independent. We still have our freedom,” said Jennifer Ross Bernhardt, JRT’s artistic director. “What we are doing is celebrating all that with this show.”

Set to be held July 3-7 at Jonesborough’s McKinney Center to allow for appropriate social distancing, this year’s “USO Show” will act as a fundraiser for the JRT to help replace funds lost due to the ongoing pandemic, but its message to the community is even more important, according to Bernhardt.

That message, she said, is one of hope.

“We love our town,” Bernhardt said. “We love our community. We’re joining our community to help in any way we can.”

She continued. “The theater and music is a safe haven for people. Their lives may be horrible. . . They come to the theater for refuge. To lighten their spirits. And music by its very nature does that.”

Still, for a time, Bernhardt acknowledged, no one knew when music might return to the stage.

“We were in the middle of ‘Shrek.’ We had one more weekend left,” she said, recalling the moment COVID-19 fears hit the region. “You know how quickly things were changing every day.”

“That afternoon in between shows, I knew then that was probably last show. It was very sad and scary.”

JRT had to cancel the final weekend of “Shrek,” then moved forward, making decisions show by show. 

And they waited, she said, for direction from the town and the governor.

As restrictions began to lift, Barnhardt realized the final show of the 2019/2020 season might be able to go on after all. But it would have to be different.

“We felt like it was very, very important to maintain the guidelines set forth by the governor,” she said. 

The show — which will feature past favorites in songs, skits and dances as well as some new USO material — would be held at the McKinney Center, which had much more open space than the JRT theater. 

Tickets would be limited to allow for appropriate distancing. Masks would be required. Temperatures would be taken at the door.

All of this, she said, would ensure that the audience could be entertained in a safe environment. 

But it would also allow the JRT to meet another vital community health need.

“By nature, humans are not supposed to be separate,” Bernhardt said. “We thrive in communities. Not being able to hug somebody is an alien way to operate.”

This, she said, was one way to meet that need.

The artistic director also strongly believes in the healing qualities of art, music and the theater.

“I have seen the dramatic changes that can take place in adults and children alike,” she said.  

“Our hope is that we can bring some joy. Mental health is also very important. And more than anything just to make people feel good about being here.”

The 1940s USO Show Fundraiser will be held Friday, July 3, through Tuesday, July 7, with multiple showings each day. You can purchase tickets through the JRT website at or by calling (or visiting) the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 423-753-1010. They will be following the CDC guidelines concerning COVID-19, and before purchasing tickets, you will need to read the disclaimer and sign that you will follow these guidelines.

Also, in order to maximize the space available, please purchase tickets in groups of 2 or 4. Groups will be seated together, but each group will be 6 feet from the next group.