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BWW Exclusive: How Barrington Stage Company Brought Equity-Approved HARRY CLARKE to the Stage

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Barrington Stage Company is only one of two theaters in the country given the greenlight by Actors' Equity Association to perform in the wake of the pandemic.

BWW Exclusive: How Barrington Stage Company Brought Equity-Approved HARRY CLARKE to the Stage

Barrington Stage Company is only one of two theater companies in the entire country that has been given the greenlight by Actors' Equity Association to begin staging performances in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That fact alone should clue you in to the herculean amount of effort it has taken- the teamwork, the attention to detail, the days, weeks, months-long conversations-to reach an agreement of circumstances that will allow for a group of people to come together, and as safely as humanly possible, experience live theater once again.

David Cale's 'Harry Clarke', a one-man show starring Barrington Stage Company Associate Artist Mark H. Dold, directed by Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director, Julianne Boyd, began preview performances this week, and will officially open on Sunday, August 9. The journey in bringing the production to the stage has been an ever-shifting test in, and testament to, perseverance, and the adaptive attitude that those who work in the theater have exhibited time and time... and time again.

'Harry Clarke' was-with a painstaking amount of detail, time, and effort-planned for indoor performances at Barrington Stage's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage. It would have been the first theater in the country given the greenlight to perform indoors (Berkshire Theatre Group, the other theater given the greenlight by Equity to begin performances, planned its production of 'Godspell' outdoors). But, it was only a few days ago that BSC was thrown for a loop, learning that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had made the decision to delay entering the second part of phase three of the state's reopening plan, meaning that just days before performances were set to begin, 'Harry Clarke' was no longer allowed to be performed indoors.

But, like they had with all the challenges that had come before, the Barrington Stage team adapted and moved forward, making the changes necessary to present 'Harry Clarke' outside. Nothing, not the delayed opening of phases in Massachusetts, nor the near-biblical amounts of rain that came down earlier in the week, preventing the team from getting through their first day of proper rehearsal in the new outdoor space, was going to stop them from bringing 'Harry Clarke' to the stage.

Working With Actors' Equity

The process of being approved by Equity to perform 'Harry Clarke' was a constant conversation between Barrington Stage and Equity as they began to build a safety plan from the ground up for handling a virus whose effects were, and are, still being discovered every day.

Mark H. Dold shared details of an initial roundtable Zoom meeting with Actors' Equity that he had been a part of early on in the process.

"It was very heated at some points I will say, because with all due respect, everybody was scared. And we couldn't really tell in the first twenty minutes of the phone call if they had any actual action plan themselves beyond the understood safety issues in place like, 'We should maintain social distance, we should be washing our hands a lot.' And we were like, 'But we already know that, what else are you asking the theater for?' ...We were all learning, and with full respect to the union, nobody knew. So, everybody was kind of simultaneously doing their research, trying to find out the best way to do this. Everybody was filling in each other's blanks."

Dold stated that the relationship with Equity "ended up being harmonious and collaborative," as all parties involved worked together to achieve the ultimate, shared goal of creating as foolproof a safety plan as possible in the face of a global health crisis.

Health and Safety Guidelines

The amount of detail within the rules, regulations and guidelines put in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved with 'Harry Clarke' cannot be overstated. Each member of the team is tested for COVID-19 every Monday, and Dold arrived close to two weeks early to self-quarantine. When Dold, Boyd, the assistant director or the stage manager stepped into the Wolfson administrative building-the only four people allowed into the rehearsal room on the second floor- and all through separate entrances to limit contact even further- they were met with a sanitation table. The four members of the team were required to take their temperature, do a pulse-oximeter reading, place those items in a 'dirty' bowl, then while wearing rubber gloves, clean them with Isopropyl rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide solution, place them in their corresponding bowl for the next person to use, and finally, record in a Google document, their temperature, pulse-oximeter reading, and state whether or not they were exhibiting any other symptoms. Everyone was required to wear a mask when moving throughout the building, hand sanitizing stations were set up at every turn, and gloves were also available to wear. Social distancing continued to be upheld in the rehearsal room, and only Dold, to serve his function as actor, was allowed to remove his mask once inside the rehearsal room.

The changes made to the theater itself included pulling out every other row of seats (bringing the seating capacity down from around 500 to around 150), sectioning off seats to allow for proper distancing between them with groups of only two or three being allowed to sit together; upgrading their HVAC system to allow for the best air quality possible, and then preparing to do a 100% purge of all of the air in the building after a show; using an electrostatic sprayer to clean every touchable surface in the building; and in the restrooms, replacing faucets, paper towel dispensers, soap dispensers and more with touch-less systems. There would be no paper programs or tickets, credits and bios would be projected onto a screen; and information would be taken on everyone buying tickets for potential contact tracing. The stage itself was set up to allow for around fifteen feet of distance between Dold and the front row, which as an actor, Dold admitted, would take some getting used to.

"My only scene partner, I'm going to be looking out at a bunch of eyeballs wearing masks, and not being able to get anywhere near them really. I keep saying to Julie [Boyd], 'What's it going to be like for me when I look out and try to have a conversation?' The audience is already slightly anonymous when you're an actor, but now they're literally masked. That is going to take me probably more than once or twice or maybe even three times through this thing to figure out what that feels like."

Moving the Production Outdoors

When Barrington Stage learned that 'Harry Clarke' was no longer allowed by the state of Massachusetts to be performed indoors, the team jumped into action, building a massive, open-air tent in the parking lot of the Polish Community Club across from Barrington Stage's Blatt Center. Outside, the same guidelines are in place: Masks must be worn by audience members throughout the performance; the seating is spaced out in the same way it was indoors, though the seating capacity is now down to around 100; there are multiple entrances to limit contact, no intermission or concessions; a screen-projected program and virtual tickets; and every surface will be cleaned in the same way that it would be if they were inside the theater.

"This show just keeps getting gut punched in a way and we just keep getting back up." Dold stated. "That resilience and that determination is really exciting. Now we're daring the fates, 'What are you going to do next?' We're full steam ahead."

The Impact of Live Theater

It would be easy to put the entire focus of the show on the sheer accomplishment of getting 'Harry Clarke' on its feet safely through all the challenges. Dold shared his hope that this production would be more than that.

"I don't just want it to be a moment in history like, 'Take that COVID, we did that.' ... I want it to be artistically meaningful. I want people to come and see a play that is beautifully written, and beautifully designed, and hopefully beautifully performed and be moved and have an experience. I just don't want it to be 'F you, coronavirus.'"

When asked what he was most excited for about presenting 'Harry Clarke' in this extraordinarily difficult time, Dold shared, "I am so excited to remind people of what it is like to be alive, frankly... this is a very isolated moment where people can re-capture just one little moment of normalcy in their lives and come together. It's the whole essence of theater and community, and coming together and sharing stories... I am so excited to bring people back, to get them out of their homes, to get them back, very gently, into a communal experience, to remind them of the restorative, healing, expansive magic of art... This experience goes so far beyond me standing up on a stage and telling this story. It's so much bigger than that. It's so much about, 'We can do this. We can help each other be safe and move forward and have life and be healthy and feel vital again.'"


'Harry Clarke' plays from August 5-16. For more information visit: https://barringtonstageco.org/


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