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Behind the Curtain: Interview With Company XIV Creator, Choreographer and Director - Austin McCormick

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Behind the Curtain: Interview With Company XIV Creator, Choreographer and Director - Austin McCormick

Due to the global health emergency, Broadway theaters have found their bright lights dimmed and their houses dark for the first time in history. As the world works together to stop the spread of COVID-19, the theater industry has been put on hold indefinitely - theaters around the world have closed their doors in compliance with social distancing rules, and Broadway has been shut down in full since March 13. The Broadway shutdown has impacted the lives of all who work in theater industry, who are now facing uncertain and unprecedented circumstances.

In our Behind the Curtain interview series, we are speaking with Broadway musicians, stage managers, ushers, bartenders, and more, talking about how they are handling the current circumstances, and discussing the impact that the shutdown has had on the Broadway community.

Today, our Behind the Curtain interview is with the creator, choreographer and director of Company XIV - Austin Mccormick.

What is your job title? Please tell me about what you do within the theater industry and how long you've been doing it for.

I'm the creator, choreographer and director of Company XIV founded in 2006. XIV is known for our unique twists on fairy-tales, ballets and myths. We fuse opera, ballet, circus and burlesque to create one of a kind genre bending theatrical experiences. I am also a freelance choreographer, having worked for the Metropolitan Opera, Theatre for a New Audience, Canadian Opera Company, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Columbus and many others.

What were you working on when the shutdown was put in place?

Company XIV had just opened our brand-new production SEVEN SINS, our take on the creation myth of Adam, Eve and fall of man when the mandated closure was issued. It was obviously extremely unfortunate timing as we had invested in the creation of this show with the intention of running for 9 months continuously. Forced closure meant the furloughing of our whole cast, crew, front of house and administrative staff. Our venue, Théâtre XIV is still set up to perform the show with all pre-sets and costumes exactly ready to resume at a moment's notice.

What has communication been like since the shutdown with the people you work with? Have you continued to maintain contact with them?

When we first closed, I naively thought I'd be seeing everyone in two weeks when this all blew over.... I didn't imagine this would be as far reaching and prolonged as it has been. We organized a virtual cocktail party with cast to say "hello" but it honestly left me missing my colleagues and collaborators more than before.

We have been consistently scheduling tentative reopening dates with the cast and crew but have had to continue to postpone indefinitely.

How do you feel that people in the theater community have come together during this time?

I know a lot of people are organizing virtual shows and performances to continue to share with their patrons and community. What we do at XIV is so tactile and so reliant on atmosphere that I haven't made the pivot to a virtual version. I respect the resilience and need to continue creating in this new world, but our type of decadently over the top environmental performance doesn't translate to Zoom.

What ways have you found to best deal with the current circumstances?

It's cliché but this is so out of our control that there is no choice but to kind of surrender and attempt to not future trip. Having said that, XIV has at least 10 ideas of how to move forward under specific guidelines when any information becomes available. So, it's been a game of imagining potential creative solutions and balancing it with the idea that we just have no idea how all of this will shake out. We just don't know how reopening in New York is going to go. Theater is in phase 4 of the plan, we are currently days into phase 2.

What mandates will take place for cabaret theaters and bars? What will capacity caps and social distancing rules be like and for how long? Will the business model we've created be able to survive under these rules? How will performers feel safe working in theater environments? How and when will audiences feel safe attending theater?

How do you think this will change the world of theater going forward?

It's such a good question and I wish I had a crystal ball. I hope for the immediate future it means some really cool creative answers to obvious limitations- maybe more intimate shows and environments? I for one love a challenge, and it can force creativity in unexpected and exciting ways, but it's tough to conceptualize moving forward when the rule book is yet to be written and is so unclear.... Ultimately, if venues and productions are forced to think more about an audience member's experience and comfort instead of packing bodies into spaces maybe it will change how we do business for the better? Or maybe I need to get my one man show ready for an audience of 10...

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

Company XIV is committed to re-opening and continuing to bring our beauty and joy to audiences. If you are looking for ways to support us, we are selling gift cards to future performances with 20% going directly to the furloughed artists of SEVEN SINS. We truly miss our fabulous patrons, beautiful theater and the act of sharing art live and in the flesh. We'll be back and can't wait to entertain you, mask and all!

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