Pandemic theatre is weird.
I’ve said that before. Lots of people have. The weirdness is not news. So drop the word “weird” and suddenly, this sentence becomes a cross between a battle cry and mantra:
Pandemic theatre is.
It is, friends. It’s happening. It may not be profitable, and you may not recognize it as the theatre you knew Before, but the play goes on even as our playhouses stay shuttered in accordance with social distancing rules.
I spent the fall working with SHXClub, ASC’s virtual version of our Drama Club program for students ages 8-14. We met every week on Zoom to play around with scenes from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, cobbling together a fun little video recording of our efforts in the process. We didn’t have a live performance in the Blackfriars Playhouse the way we normally do. The games we played became more about using our positions in our Zoom boxes rather than our physical proximity to each other in order to tell ensemble stories. Everything was a little bit different, yes, but one thing remained the same: we got to play together.
Playing together requires being together, no matter what form it takes. In regular Drama Club, students with all different levels of experience get to learn from each other by being in scenes together. They get to be together, and they have to listen and respond to each other in real time — such a simple thing to take for granted, and such an important thing to be able to preserve in pandemic times. In virtual SHXClub, students get to play with other students in real time. They get to listen and respond and tell stories together, even hundreds of miles apart. They get to receive many of the benefits of in-person theatre training (better control of their vocal and physical choices, increased ability to collaborate on a larger project with their peers, a general awareness of what their hands are doing, etc.) from the safety of their own Zoom screen. Isn’t technology amazing?
As the pandemic rages on, the temporary systems we set up as triage last March are turning into the semi-permanent systems we may still be working with for a while yet. And while those systems remain imperfect, they are also increasingly vital. Pandemic fatigue has made the light at the end of this tunnel seem even further away than it may be for the theatre industry at large, and yet — pandemic theatre is. You may not see it or recognize it as such, but society will continue to reap the benefits of a theatrically trained population so long as people are coming together to play somehow.
On that note, it’s time for me to prepare for the next cycle of SHXClub. We’re playing with Macbeth this time, and while it won’t be what it would have been in person, it will be. And that’s enough for me.
SHXClub is for budding thespians ages 9-13. The Winter 2020/Spring 2021 cycle of SHXClub runs from December 3, 2020 through March 25, 2021. Club meetings are 4-5:30pm EST on Thursday afternoons. Learn more on our website. Registration is open now, and attendance is limited — so don’t delay, register today!