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BWW Blog: A Summer Without Theatre - How I've Survived (Barely)

BWW Blog: A Summer Without Theatre - How I've Survived (Barely)

For anyone in the theatre industry, an added stressor of this summer's health and political chaos has been the complete loss of our industry's traditional in-person activity. Walking through Times Square, a place that used to fill me with joy and adrenaline, now feels eerie and depressing. Passing abandoned theatre after abandoned theatre, seeing the marquee structures for shows that have closed during the pandemic, hearing my own breath echo in the newly quiet caverns of once-bustling streets... the experience is akin to walking through a graveyard. While it's tempting to sit in this graveyard and mourn the industry we love so dearly, it's important to remember that there are still ways of accessing theatre that have persevered through the pandemic. Here are a few forms of theatre that have kept me going in these past few months:

1. Audio Plays

The sound designer in me was already intrigued by audio plays pre-pandemic, and even more so now! The level of world-building and innovation that audioplays can create for their listeners is actually very surprising; audio plays are not just actors speaking words into a mic - they include beautiful music composition, detailed and incredibly specific sound effects and audio engineering, and even feature costume design via inclusion of the sounds of swishing clothing materials, zippers, and shoes hitting the floor. Audio plays are also a fantastic study in the diction and intonation of actors. Diction work in audio plays tends to be top-tier, since the production understands the heavy reliance we have on the vocal work of the actors to understand the character, atmosphere, and story. My favorite audio play I've encountered this summer is Nevada-Tan by Leah Nanako Winkler (dir. Moritz von Stuelpnagel), which explores and critiques the aftershock of Columbine, the Sasebo slashing, and white male entitlement. Other fantastic works available in an audio play format include: An Act of God, M. Butterfly, Proof of Love, and Sakina's Restaurant. Over 500 audio plays are available through LA Theatre Works as well!

2. Recorded Works of Theatre

While I do not believe that every work of theatre should be widely accessible on film (as it takes work and patronage away from live-theatre creators!), there are a number of filmed theatre pieces available that I've been grateful to have. Of course, Hamilton on Disney+ is a fantastic option for anyone who's never seen it! But beyond Hamilton, many other works of theatre exist in a recorded format. My personal favorite filmed play is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan and Johnny Donahoe: a one-man show featuring heavy audience interaction, detailing the effects of mental health and trauma in parent-children relationships. Gentle, hilarious, and heartbreaking - this play feels like a warm hug for my heart, and I've watched it more times than I can count this summer. The play is available on HBO. Streamed productions of previously-performed shows have been available for a limited period of time this summer on the National Theatre website, on The National Theatre At Home page. I recommend checking the website for updated offerings! Previously streamed shows include Present Laughter, Cyrano de Bergerac, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, All My Sons, and Fleabag. You can also watch filmed productions via Amazon and other streaming platforms, such as Rent, Cats, the Falsettos revival, Billy Elliot, and Into The Woods.

3. Movie-Musicals

Eh, I know, not the same. But they're still entertaining for a family movie night or a craving for theatre! Some of these movies are truly fantastic. My favorite movie-musical of all time is Once. I also think that the Phantom of the Opera movie is great, as well as West Side Story, Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, Sing Street, The Sound of Music, and even The Lion King. The possibilities are endless!

4. Cast Albums

I've been interested in exploring the cast albums of musicals that have been produced live, as well as musicals that didn't get widely-acclaimed productions and have only existed as concept albums thus far. There are endless cast albums to find and listen to on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, or iTunes. Some widely-known and exceptionally beautiful choices include the Hadestown album, Spring Awakening, Rent, Wicked, The Lion King, Chicago, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (fun fact: I'm in this cast album)! Lesser-known, less-produced cast albums are even more fun to explore, in my opinion. My favorites I've heard this summer are Lazarus by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, Sing Street by Enda Walsh, Gary Clark, and John Carney, Ghost Quartet by Dave Malloy, Octet by Dave Malloy, 35mm: A Musical Exhibition by Gary Scott Oliver, and A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson.

5. Reading Plays

This has been my primary source of theatre intake for the summer. Reading plays is a wonderful way to exercise your creative muscles as a theatre artist - as most/all elements of design, vocal work, staging, and choreography can be imagined in your own head as you read! I've been drawn to reading works by playwrights of color and women recently, given the state of the world and the fact that these voices need to be heard now more than ever. Free play PDFs can be found all across the internet; plays can also be purchased through the DPS website, Amazon, and most electronic book platforms. If your library is open again, I would also recommend browsing your local library for any plays you might be able to find for free! As far as some free play PDFs go - I recommend reading Fairview by Jackie Sibbles-Drury, Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks, Dutchman by Amiri Baraka, and John by Annie Baker.

6. Watching Interviews, Rehearsal Videos, Etc

This final outlet for my theatre cravings includes basically any YouTube video I've encountered that highlights an artist's process, theatre theory, or the workings behind the scenes of a show. Watching these videos helps me to feel as though I am still working my muscles as a theatre-maker and helps me to continue to learn, even in this crazy time. The New York Theatre Workshop YouTube channel offers helpful and interesting videos on theatre-making, including this interview about directing with Rachel Chavkin, this interview about dramaturgy with Jeremy O. Harris, and workshops on trauma-informed theatrical pedagogy. The National Theatre YouTube channel is also a great resource to explore! The Park Avenue Armory YouTube channel offers a variety of lectures and artist talks as well, such as this interview with German artist Heiner Goebbels, a video on producing and staging The Damned, and a video on designing and staging Yerma. The Ars Nova YouTube channel and the ART YouTube channel have offered many concerts and entertainment-based resources. I could go on.

This summer is a sad moment for any theatre maker, yes, there's no denying that. But it's not completely devoid of access to our art form! While we wait for the lights of Broadway to glow brightly once more, there are endless resources to help us fill our time. Some access to education and entertainment is always better than complete stagnation, I promise!

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