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BWW Blog: Creating Theatre During a Global Pandemic

How do we keep the theatre alive during this time? My good friend and classmate Sammy Schechter has been working to answer that question.

BWW Blog: Creating Theatre During a Global Pandemic
Sammy Schechter
CCM BFA Musical Theatre
Class of 2022

As we know, the theatre industry remains shut down. We've begun to see inklings of COVID-19-friendly productions such as Berkshire Theatre Group's Godspell and Barrington Stage Company's Harry Clarke, but still no traditional theatrical experiences. I suppose that "traditional" is a word we may have to retire for the near foreseen future. With the absence of "traditional", though, creates the opportunity to innovate within the theatrical realm. How do we keep the theatre alive during this time? My good friend and classmate Sammy Schechter has been working to answer that question.

Where we saw a problem, Sammy saw the solution. The CCM Musical Theatre program, much like most theatres and BFA programs, saw it best to postpone our production season until next year. As Musical Theatre students, though, to not do Musical Theatre seemed a detriment to our education. Sammy Schechter, helped by another friend and classmate of mine Jake Waford, began scheming to create something. I surmise that he thought, "How can we make this possible? How can we do a show this year?" It would have to be masked, social-distanced, and not in a theatre nor possibly attended by an audience. And then it hit him! An experiential, social-distanced, masked, outdoor production. Long story short: it's happening, and I have the great fortune to be a part of it. I thought it would be neat to hear from Sammy himself about the process of making this happen on top of his directorial debut, so without further ado, here's our little interview! :)

I know all about you, but for the readers, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in theatre?

So, my mom was a musical theatre nerd growing up, but was really untalented. So, when she found out I could sing she introduced me to theatre. The shows that actually played all the time in our car were Into The Woods, Les Mis, and Once On This Island. From there, I just bit the bug and started doing community theatre, high school theatre, and then came to CCM and kept doing it!

Could you describe your vision for this project? How has the pandemic affected your creative decisions?

Storytelling is the central focus of the piece. I think during a pandemic-because we haven't had a lot of live theatre-it's gonna be really interesting to have people gather (obviously, safely and distanced) and just hear a story and have that be the main focus of it. Kind of like people gathering around the campfire and listening to something. When we're all seeking that kind of connection, I think that'll be really powerful, and we really went in that direction. This piece has been fun and exciting, and it has forced us to create theatre that is unlike things that we have seen in the past or what we would call "traditional".

What sparked your inspiration to begin this project?

I've always wanted to do this project. We got an email from our faculty about our season being cancelled [due to COVID-19 safety reasons] and they had a brainstorming [list] of projects like things you could do to perform... One of [the ideas] on the list was site-specific productions and the first thing that came to my mind was doing a production outdoors because it just seemed like the natural fit and obviously, with COVID, the risk with being outdoors-it gets minimized a lot. So, I approached Jake Waford who became my producing partner. Then, we went to the faculty and hit the ground running!

What are the details of the performance? How can people see and support the production?

The production is free! Which is awesome. I think it's gonna be a first-come first-serve basis. Hopefully, we'll be raising money for a charity or organization, and then a donation would be greatly appreciated. [More information TBA]

You've done a remarkable job in our process thus far. Do you have any aspirations to be a director? And what have you learned about directing from this process?

I do! I think it's always been my little secret that I've always wanted to direct, and I've never let myself have that opportunity. I'm very grateful that I have the opportunity to do it with a group of people that I love and feel safe and comfortable working with and have been so awesome to be my first cast. I've learned that there are a lot of drafts of everything-that if I spend enough time alone me and myself with the script, then there will be a million-and-five drafts of it by the time I get into the rehearsal room. My favorite thing to do is throw it all away once I get the people there and have whatever I've thought about the scenes or the sequences kind of be the fuel to get me through it. But throwing it all away and seeing what happens in the room magically from those people is so much more exciting and that they kind of can see where I'm going with it because I've spent so much time with it. You create a team essentially, which is really cool. I don't feel like I'm directing alone.

I think it's really incredible that you've created this opportunity for so many students here at CCM to practice what we love. What advice do you have for students like you and me who are striving to stay creative during this time?

I think we hear a lot to "think small", and I think that that's not necessarily always the best. You can always explode your biggest idea, and then you can start narrowing it down. With this, it was like: "A production outside during a pandemic!" But you can start making that large idea smaller if you figure out what is essential to the storytelling. Then, it becomes doable as opposed to thinking really small projects because then, we're gonna get really homogenous theatre.


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