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Pandemic Pushes Live Theater To The Digital World

Teresa Castracane

Many Maryland theaters were forced to close their doors this year because of the COVID 19 pandemic. Now, some have returned with digital performances. And there just may be a silver lining in that.

QUEENS GIRL: Black in the Green Mountains, a one-woman show, was in performances last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre.

Marissa LaRose, the managing director at the theater, said when it became clear the shutdown wasn’t going to be short-term, the theater had two choices.

“Kind of hibernate a bit and reduce ourselves to just survive,” LaRose said. “Or we can try to stick with it, completely revamp what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

The theatre worked with its cast and crew to build a safety plan for an in-person production. But a rise in cases this fall made even that plan impractical. So, the show moved online, where a filmed version opened earlier this month.

Black in the Green Mountains is the third installment of the QUEENS GIRL series, written by Caleen Sinnette Jennings. Everyman has staged and filmed both the previous shows and made them available online. And that’s where the silver lining comes in.

The move online means you can watch all three shows. Kyle Prue, producing director at Everyman, says you can make comparisons because the protagonist was played by a different actor in each show.

“Her parents are characters in all three plays.” Prue said, “So, we get to see each actor’s version of the parents. There are so many unique connections moving through it.”

The digital production also provides an opportunity for conversation about the work. In mid-December, all three performers joined Jennings and director Paige Hernandez to talk about the shows. Audience members could join the conversation live or watch later.

Prue was excited about the opportunity to have all the artists together, if only online.

“They’re all such amazing artists in their own right,” Prue said. “And to all have collaborated, somewhat, in different parts of this journey, it’s going to kind of be fascinating to hear them all dissect it.”

At Baltimore Center Stage, Jenny Koons recently directed a reading of Seagulls by Caryl Churchill. She said the online access means access to a much wider audience, potentially even a world-wide audience to anyone with an internet connection.

“That people who might not be able to see our work because of economic barriers or transportation barriers or just location are able to see and take part in a conversation,” Koons said.

Seagulls was part of Center Stage’s Bridge Series of virtual readings of classic and contemporary plays. Koons said she was inspired by an earlier installment in the series, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. It had a chat function within the livestream.

“It is offering access and agency and conversation,” Koons said, “That wouldn’t really be possible if we were all sitting in a theatre and watching The Glass Menagerie.”

The cast and crew of Seagulls were spread out across the country but came together in digital performance. The reading was followed by a discussion with the audience and performers.

Koons said she thinks that conversation can help deepen understanding of a theatrical text.

“It allows you to see how messy and imperfect and how so much of what we do is really rooted in questions we don’t know the answer to,” she said.

Of course, the access and conversation of digital theatre come with challenges, too, but both theaters overcame those challenges and put their art out into the world.

Everyman’s LaRose looked to the positive of sharing that art as widely as possible.

“Which is not something that we’ve ever done as a theatre, so there’s a huge, huge, huge silver lining with that,” LaRose said. “That we can share it beyond Baltimore.”

The QUEENS GIRL trilogy is available online through February 4th. The next Bridge Series reading is planned for January 21st and information is available through Center Stage.

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