Theater in the time of COVID-19

By Annisa Phillip, April 7, 2021
“We spent over $600 on P.P.E. and even hired a Health and Safety Specialist”.

With theaters around the globe being shut down by the pandemic, one is left to wonder how those in the craft would be able to continue to tell stories, transport audiences to different worlds and wow them. Last night we got let in on the new era of theater by people who are working to make it happen. 

Andrew Hungerford, is a Producing Artistic Director and Resident Designer of Know Theatre in Cincinnati. He spoke about how his theater has done a choose your own adventure show, The Light at the End of a World. They’ve also been recording shows and giving them viewing times so it could appear as live. In one of their shows, Feast, they sent the audience surprises to open during the show (it was a box of cookies but with a secret compartment to another surprise that wasn’t disclosed). 

Ralph Lewis, is the Co-founder and Co- Artistic Director of the Peculiar Works Project in NYC. He spoke about how his theater has done promenade shows where the audience is split up into pods and can walk from performance to performance and even watch live paintings.

Samuel BuggeIn, is the Artistic Director of the Cherry Arts Theater right here in Ithaca,NY. He spoke about how his theater has done things like reworking plays to having a zoom phone call setting and introducing walk this play. This option allows for theater goers to explore Ithaca and learn about the past and present community through an audio play. 

Hungerford described using these different mediums to put on shows, as a way of interrogating different types of liveness. Now that theaters are having to film and record their actors, live performance code of conducts were overlapping with the film industries. The labor unions SAG-AFTRA and the Actors Equity Association had been debating but eventually reached an agreement. That can be found here: https://actorsequity.org/news/PR/SAGAFTRAAgreement/

In adapting theater to be recorded and streamed in the homes of the audiences, the question arises of whether or not theater is being integrated into the film world due to it now being recorded and streamed. Lewis responded with, “It depends on what tools you’re using. They’re all good things and we don’t have to come down on one side or the other”. 

As the conversation came to an end, one of the participants pointed out that they came to the event expecting to hear about the struggles and hardships that the theater world is facing due to the pandemic. Instead, she was met with overwhelming positivity and innovation with how the theaters have been handling the shut down. 

Hungerford did touch on how lonely and frustrating these changes have been but in contrast, Buggln was excited about this new way of performance being a potential way of bringing their work to audiences worldwide. It also gives them a way to archive their work for the future which wasn’t made possible before.

These changes may have been made in a time of chaos and fear, but in return, they are opening up new ways for the Theater world to exist.

The Cherry Arts theater set up for a remote play

The Cherry Arts theater set up for A Day.

The Cherry Arts theater set up for A Day.  Credit to @CherryArtSpace Twitter.