Over the course of the Spring, like so many of us, I watched in dismay as theater after theater, both in Austin and across the World, cancelled or postponed productions, even whole seasons. As the lives of friends and mentors have been cut short, as careers have been frozen in amber.
At the same time, I saw media posts mourning the death of American theater, surveys saying that the majority of audiences won’t return to theaters until there’s a vaccine, arguments over whether “Zoom Theater” was the way of the future.
I found myself thinking about the past — about the history of theater, yes, and “Shakespeare who wrote during a plague,” but also about my most memorable theater experiences. The near-silent, site-specific, outdoor production by Redmoon Theater that took place in boats, on a lake in Chicago, which we watched from the shoreline. Denis O’Hare in his riveting solo performance of An Iliad. The times my castmates and I looked at an audience of mostly empty seats, figured “the show must go on,” and performed for the few folks who had shown up.
The show must go on. Now, more than ever, we need to connect.
Ours is a thousands-of-years-old art form. It’s defined not by its space, but by the act of gathering and telling stories. How many of us gather, and where, and under what circumstances? We can control those things. We can look to the Greeks and take it outdoors. We can keep it intimate, play with space and distance. If we are creative — and we are nothing if not creative — we can move within the constraints of this moment, make theater, and take care of each other. We can, to take Tony Kushner wildly out of context, make theater that is “messy but not dirty.”
So that’s what we want to do: commission a small group of exciting artists — playwrights, directors, performers — to create a half dozen live theater pieces that are site-specific and designed and produced to meet the physical challenges presented by COVID.
-Jenny Connell Davis