Dear Friends, Patrons, and Supporters of ASC,

Twelve weeks, and what now feels like at least that many years ago, I wrote to you on the day that Virginia instituted its stay-at-home restrictions in response to the rapid outbreak of Covid-19 in our country.

Today, Governor Northam is moving the Commonwealth, and our region, into Phase II of his planned easing of health restrictions.

It would be impossible to summarize the experiences of these last three months, let alone of the last two weeks since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis touched off national protests in support of Black Lives Matter as well as issues of economic inequality, racial division, and social injustice – both historic and very, very present – that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare in our society.

It can be a facile comfort to imagine that our current events are “unprecedented” when history suggests the opposite:  what is happening is, in fact, entirely precedented on that which has come before, reaching far back in time and very close to home.

Into this big experience, enter a small but determined theatre in the Shenandoah Valley.  A place that believes and affirms that words are important, that all people are valued, and that art is a central pillar of community – a place that is willing to engage in the necessary introspection to witness history within as well as without; a place capable of undertaking the rigorous interrogation required to ask hard questions and recognize our own shortcomings; a place committed to actions that do something and not just say something.

If those sound like simple virtues, they are not.  ASC needs to take a significant look at itself, to acknowledge our own failings past and present, to make what amends we can, and commit ourselves to change our future.

The last twelve weeks have, for ASC, not been a pause so much as a fast forward.  We have embraced the opportunities that are inherent within every crisis.  With your incredible help, we were first able to raise the funds to survive and Keep the Lights On.

With your help, we invested those funds in creating BlkFrsTV which has become the most financially successful digital streaming platform in the American theatre.  BlkFrsTV did more than just keep our lights on, however, it kept our hearts on. We hope it brought light and joy and even provocation to you, our audiences.

We’ve put together some facts and figures that reveal part of the story of how your contributions from $5 to ten thousand times that much allowed ASC to expand our reach to new audiences and build our capacity for interactive, digital education in ways that that will now form part of the foundation of our future.  If you are interested, you can visit that here.

But where does the story go now?  What is next for our protagonist classical theatre in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains?

I am privileged to announce and introduce you to ASC SafeStart, our carefully developed plan that moves in accordance with all the guidelines and regulations offered by the Governor, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and will permit ASC first to gather safely for rehearsals and then to welcome you to performances in a new, appropriately socially-distanced and virus-mitigated Blackfriars Playhouse configuration as well as at outdoor venues with partners here in Staunton and the region.

I invite you to check out our evolving SafeStart plans when we release them publicly next week, and to be a part of our future by thinking and sharing your responses around what will allow you to feel safe attending a performance again, whether in person or virtually.

Having entered the brave new digital world, we aren’t going back, you see.  We are going to remain dual citizens, capable of offering art and education both physically and virtually in formats that are both synchronous and asynchronous.

These are extraordinary times. It can be scary to learn to live, and work, in the age of this coronavirus just as it can be scary to confront legacies of racial inequality that are embedded in the fiber of our national being.  Change takes courage.  Change takes individuals and change takes community.

ASC invites you to be a part of change.  ASC offers you the wisdom of art and the words of history to help guide us toward something new.

ASC invites you to begin again.

I’ll see you at the Playhouse, no matter what form that takes.

Ethan McSweeny,
Artistic Director
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