BWW Interview: GOING DARK, Part 17 - Maryjane Burton
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wage war on the United States and world. The news is still bad, the anxiety is still high, and the future remains uncertain. As it is now, we're all just doing our best to stay healthy and sane. Turning to the arts is always a balm in difficult times, but the arts are deeply affected during this pandemic. Live theatre is canceled indefinitely, and the artists who've committed their lives and careers to it are out of work. In the face of an uncertain future, artists are left voiceless as they face unprecedented hardship. GOING DARK is an exclusive interview series that seeks to give back a sense of control to those artists who work so hard and have so much to give. In their own words, they explain the hardships faced during this historic time in the performing arts. Part 17 features Choctaw High School Performing Arts Director Maryjane Burton.
This is GOING DARK.
BWW: Before the quarantine happened, you directed a production of Bright Star at Choctaw High School. What was that experience like? Do you feel like you ended (for now) on a high note?
MJB: Directing our district-wide production of Bright Star will go down as one of the absolute highlights of my career! First, it's just a uniquely beautiful piece of story-telling. Second, the cast, crew, and musicians were so willing to let me push them to the level of commitment and vulnerability that this production required. As I look back and realize that we missed the pandemic by only a couple of weeks, I feel so incredibly blessed, but oddly, there's also this weird "survivor's guilt" thing. My heart absolutely breaks for the hundreds of casts, crews, and musicians across the nation who never got to perform their end-of-year productions. Plays and musicals forced to shut down in a blink of an eye. Some just hours before opening; some already into their run. Going dark... just like that. I cannot even imagine.
BWW: What are you hoping for your students once this pandemic finally passes?
MJB: Once this pandemic passes and we receive the long awaited "all clear", my hope, not only for my students but for all us, is that we truly had time to reflect on life and relationships. That sounds so "dramatic", but it's true. This experience reminds us that life as we know it is unpredictable; we never know what the next second will bring. For so many, this COVID-19 experience has been nothing but sadness, fear, isolation, and tragedy. I am one of the lucky ones... for now, my immediate circle of people is safe and healthy, and this experience has allowed me to reconnect and reset. But for others, this has been a tragedy. I hope this crazy, historic, and surreal pandemic has inspired us to be more grateful and thankful for every second of life and every relationship it brings. We need each other.
BWW: Have you been inspired to do any particular show or project once it's safe to produce theatre again?
MJB: Before we were told that our classrooms and school buildings were basically "off limits" until further notice, I managed to grab a box full of scripts to peruse. I've read through about a dozen so far and came across a script I have directed before, but it has once again touched a chord in me. So, it went in the "possible competition one-act play" pile. I have already applied for the rights for our next musical, but haven't received license approval yet, so, fingers are still crossed. As far as our spring production, I had already auditioned and cast Anatomy of Gray, written by Jim Leonard, and it has been postponed until Spring 2021.
This production is a collaboration project with Rose State Theatre, and I was so looking forward to getting started with rehearsals. Although I received my teaching degree from UCO, most of my college theatre acting experience was in the H.B. Atkinson Theatre on the campus of what was then Oscar Rose Junior College. I have great memories performing Atkinson's thrust stage in an intimate theatre that seats approximately 250 audience members. The plan is to have two performances in our PAC at Choctaw High School, and then transport the set to Rose State's Atkinson Theatre to finish the final four-day run. Like so many, I'm looking forward to the 20-21 theatre season and getting back on the boards!
BWW: What have you been doing to keep a sense of normalcy during these crazy times?
MJB: Well, like everyone else, this all seemed to hit so fast that it kind of knocked the wind out of me. The first week was our spring break, but needless to say, it wasn't as enjoyable as it had been in years past. After closing Bright Star, my Competitive Drama students went back into competition mode, preparing to compete at the OSSAA Regional Speech and Debate Tournament the Friday and Saturday before spring break. But late Thursday afternoon, we received the news that Regionals was postponed, then eventually cancelled. After that, it seemed like postponements and cancellations just kept coming like a landslide, crushing so many milestone events in its path... it was overwhelming and almost too much to wrap your brain around. So, the last couple of weeks has been a time of creating a "new normal", and I haven't quite mastered it yet. Now that "Distance Learning" has begun, I think it will help refine my schedule and norm for the next five weeks or so. I'm looking forward to spending time with my students again...even if it's virtually.