In March of 2020, the lights officially went out on Broadway. Though officials hope to reopen on April 12, 2021, nothing is set in stone. The pandemic has stripped away the sense of predictability, and thespians are more frustrated than ever. “Imagine you have finally made Broadway, and by the time this is over you’re going to be aged out,” said performer and St. Mary’s drama teacher Jenny Madden, “That’s as real as it gets.”
What makes theatre stand out from film and television is the connection between the audience and the actors onstage. With the new and unpredictable theatre environment, we must find ways to make this connection while maintaining safety or by putting live theatre on hold until audiences can come back. In the meantime, actors have to stay busy. “The biggest pivot is making sure I am as good a performer. How can I be in a good mind, soul, and body so that when we are back together, I’ll be ready?” said Madden.
Despite the uncertainty for the current theatre actor, performers have been finding other ways to express their theatrical abilities. A simple search in Google will show you how the new virtual medium is being explored by theatres all over the country. You’ll find new pieces written specifically for Zoom, taped performances like Hamilton on Disney+, and even radio shows.
Madden said, “What has given me the most hope and strength is coming together [virtually] for the Lower School play with the Upper School girls. Knowing that the Upper School girls were showing up and really being there made me go, ‘Oh, we’re still doing it; it’s just really different.’” The Lower School play, a series of podcasts called “The Feel Good Radio Show,” was rehearsed and recorded over Google Meet, one of the creative solutions to putting on theatre safely at St. Mary’s. Though Madden was considering a regular size radio play of around 90 minutes, the virtual aspect of it makes it a bit more challenging. She said, “As far as content, it has to be bitesize. Nobody’s going to sit and watch two hours of what should have been onstage.”
We don’t know when the pandemic will subside, or if we’ll ever be able to go back to the theatre that thespians know and love. As unpredictable as theatre is at the moment, what remains the same is our endless ability to create and find more solutions. As Madden said, “We’re not getting the payoff. It’s sort of like you’re creating in front of a moving target. It’s not the same as being in a place with people who are trying to tell a story. But that part has to be put aside for a little bit.”
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