Throughout history theatre has survived plagues, war and depression. The question is now: how can it survive this virus?
As soon as the Covid-19 clamp down came and we all heard we couldn’t go outside, many of us quickly turned to online solutions; disseminating archival recordings of our work, embracing zoom to read our plays out loud, creating new content for Instagram live, Facebook live and Youtube. At the end of a long day of meetings I continually hear, “I am zoomed out.”
As a vehicle for connecting in our hyper isolated world, zoom has been a godsend. As a medium for storytelling, zoom does not lend itself to live theatre. Do we really want to think about creative expression for online platforms like Zoom as synonymous with theatre making?
My first instinct was also to resort to taking work online. I approached Ed Napier, a theatre and television writer and a close friend, and we pulled together a stellar group of actors to try-out reading his play, The Building: Laura Easterman, Jodi Markell and Bobby Lupone, among others to read the play. Ed yelled, “Stop!” when we were halfway through as he felt that watching his play performed by actors in a series of boxes on a screen drained the life out of it. The actors complained bitterly about being completely disconnected from one another. Ed said that Zoom, “gobbles narrative.” And he has now set about adapting and filming this script FOR zoom.
We are all terrified of what the future holds and this fear has led many of the artists I’ve spoken with to rush to generate content for all kinds of online vehicles. Right now it is all we have. Others believe it is best to wait patiently until this is “over” and we can once again go back inside theatres. But there is another alternative. Once society begins to open up again, there are alternate forms of theatre we can create in a time when we can go outside but still not go inside a theatre. I’m calling this time “the in-between”.
Let’s slow down and ask ourselves what our art might look like in “the in-between.”
This time could last three months, six months or eighteen months, none of us know. But in the meantime we can reinvent storytelling. Theatre is not dependent upon the buildings it inhabits. It’s heartier than that.
Without a doubt our world and art form will be inextricably changed on the other side of this historic event. We don’t know what it will look like, but artists can be the architects of positive change that might augur a new kind of storytelling that makes us stronger individually and together, and just perhaps the” in-between” will become the new normal. This is a time where the universe is telling us to embrace uncertainty with courage.