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BWW Interview: American Shakespeare Center's Kelly M. Burdick On The Road To Reopening

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The ASC is currently back on stage outdoors, with indoor programming set to resume next month.

BWW Interview: American Shakespeare Center's Kelly M. Burdick On The Road To Reopening

BroadwayWorld is checking in with theaters around the country as they prepare to reopen this summer. We're kicking off the series by checking in with American Shakespeare Center's Director of Communications Kelly M. Burdick.

American Shakespeare Center is currently back on stage with Macbeth. Upcoming productions include Henry V and All's Well That Ends Well.

BWW Interview: American Shakespeare Center's Kelly M. Burdick On The Road To Reopening

Kelly M. Burdick joined the American Shakespeare Center as director of development in April 2017. A new Virginian, by way of NYC, she most recently served in the same role at The Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH). During her tenure at CTH, she was a proud member of the extraordinary team that brought the company out of debt and cemented Uptown Shakespeare in the Park's long-term residency in Marcus Garvey Park. Prior to that, she worked at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone creating and implementing large-scale capacity building grants for arts organizations in Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood. She is a lifelong theatre kid. She holds a BA in theatre arts from Marymount Manhattan College and a MA in arts administration from Columbia University. While she sometimes misses New York, she's fallen in love with the Staunton sidewalks.

What has your theater's staff been up to over the past year?

American Shakespeare Center (ASC) staff never stopped working! We did have two rounds of furlough, but the company never stopped operating. We immediately pivoted to committing our existing repertory of seven productions to film, creating BlkFrs TV. Those productions were enjoyed by thousands of patrons across the U.S. and around the world. We transferred our educational content to digital to help support parents and teachers facing sudden onset homeschooling. Then, in the early summer, we created ASC SafeStart, a series of layered mitigations designed to allow artists and audiences to safely return to live performances. From July-October, we produced 61 performances in two venues for about 5,000 patrons without a single case of Covid in The Acting Company, staff, or audience. As of May 13, we have opened SafeStart 2021 under a revised set of guidelines that respond to the changing conditions.

How has the pandemic most affected your company?

Pandemic life has caused ASC to appreciate our audience more than ever before. We produce in the Blackfriars Playhouse, the world's only recreation of Shakespeare's indoor theatre. It is a three quarter thrust where no one audience member is more than 50 feet away from center stage. The space is lit by wrought iron chandeliers that stay shining throughout the performance: our audience can see our actors, our actors can see the audience, and the audience can see each other. This informs ASC's signature style of direct address. Pandemic forces the audience farther away from the actors and from each other. This distance has reenforced our commitment to providing our audiences with an intimate, engaging experience.

Have you done any streaming theatre/events?

ASC has offered several live stream events - concerts, workshops, and full performances - as well as pre-recorded productions.

What have the audience reactions to any digital performances been like?

While there is nothing like a live performance inside the Blackfriars Playhouse, our patrons have responded well to the digital experience as a next best option. The most frequent response we've had is gratitude for bringing joy to their homes, for providing experiences they could share with loved ones far away, and reminding them of what's to come when this is all over.

What have you got coming up you're most excited to share with audiences?

Live performances!

How did your venue come up with a reopening plan/covid safety plan?

ASC created the SafeStart plan in consultation with a local infectious disease specialist. She is a friend and fan of the theatre who has provided ongoing advice and support throughout the past year. We looked at every piece of the business from the admin offices to the artist needs to the audience experience searching for exposure possibilities and systematically closed them with overlapping mitigation strategies. We then created layers of accountability throughout the staff, leadership, and Board of directors to ensure compliance.

Will there be any adjustments in capacity or seating/vaccination or testing requirements?

As of today, the Blackfriars Playhouse is operating at a?" capacity and will likely remain at some level of restriction through the end of the year. We require universal masking for everyone outside of The Acting Company bubble. We have not required vaccination, but our acting company is fully vaccinated and the whole organization will reach that threshold on May 20. The actors have tested into the bubble after a week of quarantine and we will continue to test as needed throughout the season.

Will there be any changes to the on-stage aspects of the shows in response to the pandemic?

ASC usually has on-stage seating for all performances. We have had to remove them for the pandemic and remove the first rows of seats on all three sides.

Were there any COVID considerations in programming the upcoming season - selecting titles, etc?

Yes! We all need a break from restrictions and lockdowns. Macbeth is a freight train of a play that will take our audiences on an immersive journey and leave them breathless. It'll let you leave reality behind.

Will there be any changes to your ticketing policies, flexible rescheduling, etc?

ASC has loosened its ticketing policies allowing out ticket holders to reschedule, choose placeholders for later performances or ask for refunds. We've also been fortunate to have many patrons donate back the value of the tickets that were cancelled because of the pandemic.

When and what are you re-opening with?

[We] re-opened outdoors on May 13 with Shakespeare's Macbeth and [will] indoors on June 16th with Henry V.

What are you most looking forward to?

We are looking forward to recreating what the pandemic has taken away; the vital opportunity for human connection. We're a little further apart, but being back to live performance allows us to come together in the same space and safely share our tears, our gasps, and our laughter.

How have you remained engaged with your audience about the return to the stage?

We have done everything short of skywriting! We've been providing our patrons with regular updates as the pandemic conditions change through email, socal, and working with our local news partners.

How can audience members learn more and stay up to date?

The can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, sign up for our mailing list on americanshakespearecenter.com, or keep an eye on BroadwayWorld!


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