Theatre in the time of COVID

I asked the universe for one pretty giant birthday present. And the universe came through.

I’m in a show and opening night was my birthday. Shakespeare. Taming of the Shrew. My character is one that usually gets cut from the film versions, but ends up being pretty central to most of the machinations in the original. The director offered me the role months ago and I almost turned it down because I was afraid of limiting my summer theatre options (but I took it because damn, I wanted this role). Then the pandemic hit this corner of the globe and any theatre this summer seemed pretty damn unlikely.

If we were anywhere else in this country, this show would not be happening. But we’re in Maine and thankfully we have an intelligent governor and our case rates have been decreasing. (Or at least were when I originally wrote this post. With tourists and companies not bothering to quarantine their migrant workers, cases are now trending up again and I am not impressed.)

Theatre in the time of Covid starts with no one feeling terribly sure they’ve made the right decision by continuing with the play. It means quiet rehearsals because the usual between-things-chatter doesn’t happen much with everyone in masks. It means everyone is more prepared to properly project when we take the show outside for performances. Actors have been relying on physicality to project and communicate the nuances we often leave to facial expressions.

In short, it has given us a better performance.

But it also means that the moment I get home, I’m stuffing my clothes in the laundry and hopping into the shower. It means that we don’t get to hang out and bond after rehearsals or performances the way that always helps cement that feeling of show-family. It means that, while my toddler is so excited I’m in a play and she keeps asking to see it, I have to disappoint her and keep her home. Toddlers don’t really get social distancing. (And taking a moment to acknowledge one more layer of privilege, none of this would have been possible if I were a single parent.)

Theatre in the time of Covid means trusting your cast and crew ten times more than ever before. I mean, there’s always a level of trust necessary, but now we’re trusting each other to practice proper masking and social distancing outside of the theater (or performance space, in our case being outdoors). For someone who’s been in full lockdown since March–only me, my husband, and our toddler, necessary trips only, or the occasional drive to let the toddler run and explore somewhere different without much risk of running into other people–that was a giant, terrifying leap. It still is, to be honest, and tonight is our closing.

And once back in that familiar space, with familiar people, the lines quickly blurred between the old normal and new normal. After opening night, that was one comment I heard: it was a much needed breath of the old normal.

Tomorrow, I’m back to lockdown. While Maine’s numbers have been good, this virus with its serious potential for death or chronic illness is not a risk I’m willing to take with my family’s lives, and I’m thoroughly anticipating a second wave. But damn, I’ve enjoyed this show.

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