Theater is one sector of the arts that requires a live audience in order to exist, and companies all over the world are suffering the devastating effects of the pandemic. Even the Globe in London, the renowned replica of Shakespeare's theater, is reportedly on the verge of shuttering permanently.
In North Texas, theaters are banding together to offer mutual support. Some of Dallas/Fort Worth’s best-known theaters have been meeting on Zoom every week to talk about the present and future of live theater.
“The coronavirus may have temporarily darkened our stages, but it has unified us with a common mission — our first priority continues to be the health and safety of the whole community, audiences and artists alike.” These words are spoken by leaders and representatives from 18 different theaters in a YouTube video edited by Jeff Schmidt, the artistic director at Theater Three.
“Governor Abbott hasn't said anything about theaters reopening yet. Live theater. So we’re just proactively planning,” says Raphael Perry, the executive and artistic director of Shakespeare Dallas and a participant in the weekly Zoom calls. “All of us have been exchanging ideas about when we're allowed to reopen, what we should be doing. So there's been a lot of proactive conversations.”
Perry has the advantage of having an outdoor amphitheater. Though they have had to cancel their summer season of Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare Dallas is planning on reopening for their fall season. They will be celebrating their 50th anniversary as a company with a production of Romeo and Juliet.
“I guess the great thing about our company is we work outdoors, in a big five-acre amphitheater,” says Perry. “So I think we can accommodate our audiences with plenty of social distancing and, you know, set them up with little pods on the grass, and they can bring their lawn chairs and their blankets and their family units, and just be isolated from other groups, is our current plan.”
Shakespeare in the Park is also working with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, which is working with them to provide things like touch-free soap dispensers.
“I'm really happy to see the city of Dallas is moving forward with some proactive plans and want to make sure people have an opportunity for arts and culture or to enjoy the parks, but also to protect them in that process,” Perry says.
But not many theaters have the space and airflow of a big amphitheate. For Theater Three, for example, things are going to look a little different moving forward. Not only are they working on letting their audiences view their productions digitally, but they are also working on rehearsing via Zoom.
“We've investigated a way to produce the next show in our season digitally,” says Charles Beavers, Theater Three’s executive director. They are now beginning digital rehearsals for The Immigrant by Mark Harelik online.
“And then we’re working on a plan to capture digitally while still maintaining social distancing with the actors and limiting the number of staff in the space,” Beavers says.
They are also planning to turn their theater into a temporary green-screen studio.
“So what we’re leaning towards is scaling out digital, social distanced performance to livestreamed performances,” says Beaver. “Our hope is that we can scale it in so that by next season we have a reduced number of live attendees with a blended digital attendance.”
Expectedly, it's been difficult for live theater to plan for the future no matter how creative individual staffs become.
“On behalf of all the arts and culture in Dallas, we walk a tightrope, financially, under normal conditions,” Beaver says. “So with all this uncertainty, things are really difficult for us.”
That’s why our favorite theaters are banding together to get through this pandemic with the hope that one day, things can get back to normal.
As the Dallas leaders in live theater said in their video, “When the curtains rise again, we look forward to the connectivity and inspiration that only live theater can provide.”