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In a time when everything is about social distancing, wearing masks, and simply staying home, traditional theatre is impossible. There is no way to produce and create the live theatre that we all know and love with current restrictions and recommendations in place. Luckily, theatre makers are notoriously inventive people and where there’s a will there’s a way. At the beginning of March (before the major onset of closure and postponements) I was notified that I would be directing at a new works short play festival produced by the Avonlea Theater Company and Cobb & Co located in Spanish Fork, UT. This festival eventually came to be titled Six Feet Apart, a virtual and COVID safe festival. I was to direct two plays, but as the festival got closer and alterations hadn’t been made to ensure the safety of cast and crew I considered pulling out of the festival. I am so glad I didn’t.
A couple weeks before the festival we, as directors, were given two options for our productions. No matter what we chose, the festival had been changed to readings instead of full productions. For those who are not as knowledgeable about different types of productions, I will elaborate. A fully mounted production is what we usually think of when we think of theatre: costumes, sets, props, lights, and fun music/sound effects. A reading of a play is a lot more simple but just as beneficial to new plays and their playwrights. Readings can happen in a myriad of ways from a group of friends reading the script together in someone’s living room to an auditioned cast reading the script in front of an audience (without any design elements or movement on the stage). The options given to directors for the readings were to either come to the theater and have the cast read the script standing six feet apart throughout the theater while being professionally filmed by a local news station or submit a self-recorded reading of the script taken place over a conference call format.
In efforts to keep my casts as safe as possible, I opted to direct my plays via Zoom (you know, everyone’s new favorite conference call platform). Over the course of a week of rehearsals we worked character development, “movement” on and off of the “stage” through turning on and off webcams, possible minimal costume choices, and “sets” as established by either Zoom backgrounds or using items the cast members already owned. However, for one of the plays I directed, both cast members were in the same home and we were able to create some version of a short film. It was a very new experience for all of us, but I was really proud of what we were all able to create together from a safe distance. What I got from the experience was the reminder that live theatre is always changing. Complications will arise, but as theatre makers we just learn how to work with it, because that’s what we do. We take a problem and we solve it. We are artists and creators, problem solvers and inventors, we are theatre makers.
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