Theater in the Time of Pandemic
It’s been quite a horrendous year without live performance. Theater which we took for granted, especially in cities like New York and Los Angeles, was gone. In a twinkling, it was gone, and show folk were silenced, and, at best, on unemployment.
We can imagine how the London theaters were closed during the bubonic plague, to prevent the spread of contagion. Elizabethan theaters were frequently shuttered during outbreaks, in 1593-1594, which claimed nearly a third of the city’s population. The official rule was that once the death rate exceeded 30 per week, performances would be canceled.
Unlike Elizabethan times, present day theaters and performers have adapted by learning to use “Zoom,” or other crowd meeting programs, and streaming programs. We’ve been given access to theatrical events around the world.
During this time, we’ve lost many creative people to Covid-19, and other conditions, including important voices like:
- Jerry Herman
American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater. He composed “Hello, Dolly!” “Mame,” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
- Terrence McNally
American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter. He wrote “Love! Valour! Compassion!” “Master Class,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and “Ragtime.”
- Larry Kramer
American playwright, author, film producer, public health advocate, and LGBT rights activist.
- Ivy Bottini
American activist for women’s rights and LGBT rights, and a visual artist.
- Jerry Herman
Broadway Cares and The Actors Fund have hosted online benefits. Our theaters big and small have suffered financially, too, and I urge you to donate to them as best you can.
This pandemic has shown how much we miss, and need, live performance in our community. I’ve reached out to the theaters on our Purple Circuit Directory, to survey how they are coping, and inquired about their future plans.
It’s been inspiring to see the innovative ways ways theaters and performers have kept theater alive in these isolated times.
- San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros, the oldest continuous LGBTQ+ theater in the U.S., has had weekly one-person, online shows, created and performed by their AD John Fisher for more than a year, from his apartment. They will also be presenting “Gay As They Say” conceived by Mark Nadler, streamed for free on May 21-23, 2021.
- Some theaters, like The Fountain, in Los Angeles are preparing for live performances again by turning their parking lot into an outdoor theater.
- The Diversionary Theater in San Diego has been fortunate to renovate their theater during this down time, turning it into a showcase. You can “Take a Seat,” (scroll down, click the Take-A-Seat tab), and take a “take Virtual Tour” (scroll down, click the Photos & Video tab).
- The One Archives Foundation has done an online celebrity reading of “The Normal Heart” on May 8, 2021, with a tribute to Larry Kramer by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
- The Bridge Street Theatre, in Catskill, NY, is presenting archival productions of Kaliyuga Arts including Federico Garcia Lorca’s gayest play, “The Public.” Here are 25 videos from Bridge Street Theatre.
- Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble will present “I Kissed Chavela Vargas” by Monica Palacios, a live-streamed reading on May 16, 2021.
Artists have continued writing.
- Michael Kearns has just published a new book, “Whose Afraid Of Michael Kearns,” a collection of three of his plays.
- “The Lady Was A Gentleman,” a play by Barbara Kahn, was published in May 2021. Her plays about real life 19th century breeches role actor Charlotte Cushman.
Truly, the theater community is resilient: performers and theaters have adapted and survived this pandemic. We need to support them financially, and hopefully, quite soon, we will be able to see a show in a theater, with an audience.
Our Purple Circuit tagline has always been “See a gay or lesbian show tonight, and when you travel.” Now, I will add, “and support these special spaces, and performers.”
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