Musings on Theater in the Time of COVID-19: Back to the Future

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Musings on Theater in the time of Co-Vid19: Back to the Future

Mara Mills, Dramaturg, Stage Director, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Studio Theater in Exile.

Are we going to rush back into theaters sitting cheek by jowl or invent new theaters with social distancing apparatus separating us and a total audience of… how many can we fit in? Will actors wear shielded head gear to prevent an accidental droplet. And a stage kiss, with those hats and shields? Do we ask actors and technicians to bring certificates that they have had the virus and have antibodies?  Come on. Do we ask the audience to come masked and covered? These images remind me of Kurt Vonnegut’s story Harrison Bergeron.

And as theater returns, quickly or slowly, will it be Theater of Entertainment or Theater of Reflection?

Every day, safe in place, I work with two talented women who are writing one woman shows. We can talk  Face Time and hear each othe and have the illusion of meeting. We email, we text. We work on the scripts and talk about ways to produce them . On video? OnlyIf we can get close enough. Via skype, Zoom, Face Time? Can the actor do it from home with a smartphone? Document it now, put it on stage later – when? None of these solutions are totally satisfying. Personally, face timing with my grandchildren is okay but not really acceptable, even if my grandson can show me his orange dump truck and his purple potty seat.

Real theater is a contract between those on stage and those in the audience. For small companies, post pandemic economics and a new insecurity about space influences our decisions as our collaborating organizations: museums, libraries, and other public arenas start their own revisioning, reopening, and recovery. At Studio Theater in Exile, which, as my daughter pointed out in an email, is a very appropriate name right now, we are talking about many alternative places and schedules, but no real plans can be made until it is safe for face to face collaboration. Theater is, by nature, collaborative. Theater is about dialogue. Nothing can take the place of that intimate interaction. And we will get back there.

However right now, we are all finding our way. I am proud of all the creative projects coming out of the arts community. The Climbing the Walls project that we are doing with Hudson Valley MOCA is our effort to keep dialogue in the arts community collaborating and is a way to reflect on the present and the future . We'd be happy if you would join in the dialogue and submit a creative work to highlight this period of time. Click on Climbing the Walls to learn more.

I want to thank Ed Friedman and Ken Wolf, two friends and colleagues, for their Musings and look forward to working together in any way with them.

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Studio Theater in Exile

“Theatre takes place all the time wherever one is, and art simply facilitates persuading us this is the case”

- John Cage