by Marcina Zaccaria
Feelings of alienation from audiences not yet able to enter traditional theater spaces leave us to ask: Is this Virtual Revolution So Great after all? Artistic Directors, Executive Directors, and Artists continue to respond on how they feel about the Virtual Revolution.
Here are replies to four questions, asked by TheaterPizzazz.com‘s Marcina Zaccaria.
#1 – What’s it like having audiences tune in from their living room?
#2 – Do you wish for better technology?
#3 – Do you have any Summer plans for virtual performances?
#4 – What impact do you think this digital revolution will have on theater in the future?
Tamilla Woodard, Co-Artistic Director of Working Theater
#1 – I’ve gotten to BE an audience in my living room and it’s hard to focus. The lights are on. The sirens are loud out of my window. I don’t have good company sitting next to me. In fact, I have no one sitting next to me. You can’t feel me laugh and I can’t feel you laugh or hear you breath or shift in your seat. I miss that. But I am ready to embrace a different reality as long as I can access the LIVE-ness of theater again. As long as I can FEEL that I am a MEMBER of a group called AUDIENCE again. I think we CAN in-fact do that really well, once we all get over what we miss and embrace what we have.
#2 – Yes, of course, but it looks like the tech industry is responding. I am excited about Facebook’s Messenger Rooms, for instance. In a way, this moment is exactly what is needed to entice tech to create solutions for robust gathering and live events that are visceral, intimate and well.. Live!
#3 – Sanctuary is a commission from our Five Boroughs Initiative. It is created by documentary storyteller and multi-media artists Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo in collaboration with the faith community of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Sanctuary is asking a question we all have right now – What does sanctuary mean now in a world of such chaos, inequity and injustice? We’re excited for this project to move into next stage development which includes expansion into online participatory components between audience members, as well as other forms of digital storytelling.
#4 – I think it adds a new level of access for audiences. I think it will entice some folks to the theater who have traditionally felt unwelcome. I think we can begin to remove some psychological and physical obstacles and we can start to invent new rituals and customs around “attending” theater and THAT IS EXCITING.
Alex Roe, Artistic Director of the Metropolitan Playhouse
#1 – We enjoy the fact that people can tune in from the relative comfort of their homes, and that some patrons who would be physically challenged, by distance or infirmity, can enjoy the work. In ways, these essentially one-on-one dramatizations are more directly intimate, and a new type of reward for actor and audience. We could only feel that way because we receive direct feedback, via chat, comment, and e-mail, of course. Those conversations bring us even closer to audiences, as we end up engaging with personal email conversations with some patrons that we would not have before. These are not a full substitute for handshakes and hugs in the lobby or applause of a full house to a unified cast at the end of a live performance. However, the fact that auditors will take the time to write is especially rewarding…though we recognize of course everyone has more time on their hands and a desire to reach out!
But that recognition affirms that keeping some sort of creative engagement going, and offering some form of dramatic storytelling to a public, however scattered, is loving and essential to our social and personal well being.
#2 – Adapting conference technology to dramatic video production and distribution–namely Zoom and YouTube–is posing a wonderful creative challenge. Working through video is teaching us new acting techniques and informing our understanding of what live performance is. We’re enjoying exploiting all these opportunities. There are features it would be nice to have, such as allowing fades from one speaker to another, changing arrangement of camera views, changing backgrounds on the fly, etc. Would these be “better” tech? I’m pretty impressed by the ease and efficacy of the tech we use. But adapted tech specific to broadcast would be very helpful. Perhaps it exists somewhere….
#3 – We will continue and expand our current readings through the shutdown, and probably beyond, given the reluctance we imagine audiences will have to return to confined spaces. We conceive of creating broadcast performances, once we might gather actors in one place, but still cannot attract audiences. There are so many unknowns at this point, it’s difficult to plan past the next fortnight!
#4 – I imagine any of us who are learning and enjoying the opportunities of live, video contact will continue to incorporate it, either for continued streaming programming (appropriate compensation agreements permitting), or for in-theater performances, now we know more about the possibilities. But there is no substitute for in-person, live performance before an assembled audience. So less the digital revolution than the redefinition of public gatherings will be the change we expect to see in theater as we know (or knew) it. Digital opportunities may necessarily be the only redress we have to offer for some time.
Dr. Indira Etwaroo, Executive Directior The Billie Holiday Theatre
#1 – The Billie has always been a gathering place for our Central Brooklyn neighborhood and, in the midst of this pandemic, we wanted to continue to be a resource and ‘place’ for our community. And in that spirit, we decided to create the #StayAtHome Reading Series, launching in late March with a revival of Richard Wesley’s Autumn. I have to say, that the reception thus far has really been incredible with over 38,000 views and 5,000 comments from people from across the world. What we have found with this Series is that it allows us to give our audience The Billie experience outside of our four walls and that it is introducing us to new audiences across the world!
#2 – This is the first time we have ventured into presenting work virtually so this is new for us. I actually think with each presentation that the technology and the art is becoming more seamlessly integrated for us. I imagine most theaters and presenters are also gaining learnings on how best to use the technology to showcase their work while still maintaining the integrity and intention of the work as we all continue to navigate a whole new platform and space to present.
#3 – Fortunately, in working within these uncertain times and circumstances, The Billie is organically a nimble organization and we are able to be flexible in the virtual programming space. We are so happy with the success of our #StayAtHome Reading Series and have plans to continue presenting works under its banner that make sense and feel right. In fact, the next presentation will be a special edition of our popular monologue showcase series 50in50 with 50in50:Love in the Time of Corona – which derives its title inspiration from the classic novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Nobel prize winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. 50in50: Love in the Time of Corona will have its premiere via The Billie’s Facebook Live platform on Thursday, April 30th. Summer 2020 is a rare moment to have the bandwidth to focus on long and short term planning and enliven our five year strategic plan.
#4 – I think we have all entered a whole new world on so many different levels and that all arts institutions will be charged with figuring out how to navigate in this new terrain post COVID-19. As we continue to figure these things out, I do believe that digital solutions will continue to figure into our strategies in some capacity.
Joshua Turchin, host of The Early Night Show with Joshua Turchin – Broadway Podcast Network.
#1 – It’s really amazing to have such a wide audience tuning in every week to The Early Night Show. I miss putting on live cabarets in New York City, but my virtual cabaret allows me to bring entertainment to homes around the country. Since my show was picked up by the Broadway Podcast Network, we can now reach even more audiences with our fun family friendly musical comedy variety show.
#2 – We adapt really well when there is a need, and are constantly fine tuning things to keep making our productions stronger. I think that technology will naturally progress as the need for better technology arises.
#3 – My hope is to continue producing virtual editions of The Early Night Show as long as audiences continue to enjoy them. I’ve also been working on my original musical, The Perfect Fit, and expect some exciting news to come out by the Summer!
#4 – We have to rethink creating art in this post-coronavirus world. Theater may never be exactly the same again. I’ve been working really hard to create a show where artists around the world can still collaborate and create music together, and I’m excited to see where things go from here!