For Good Company and Selma Arts Center, clever social distancing means a glimpse at live, local theater
I spent Friday night at a theater.
I spent Saturday night at a theater.
Eight months ago, nothing about that schedule would have been out of the ordinary for me. In fact, it would be more uncommon for me not to occupy both of my weekend nights in some sort of entertainment venue. That’s what cultural writers do. I’m so familiar with local theaters that my car can drive to most of them by itself.
But all that changed with the pandemic. For a spell that has turned out to be longer and dryer than anything the biggest coronavirus pessimist could have imagined, I have stayed home. Theater, music and the visual arts still availed themselves (on a much more limited basis), but I had to experience it all digitally. When the pandemic began, I marveled for several weeks at the versatility and immediacy of Zoom — and the fact that the commute from my living room to the performance was about 45 seconds. Oh, and that I could slip on a dress shirt and stick with running shorts and no one would be the wiser. But the novelty started slipping away, and my frustration with the lack of dimensionality in the digital experience — the perpetual flatness of that computer screen — began to grate.
Which is why this past weekend was so special for me.
On Friday afternoon and evening, I filmed a special episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC” at Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre. We’re calling the episode “We’re Still Here.” Eight noted members of the company showed up for a schedule of scrupulously socially distanced half-hour time slots, masks in hand, each one standing in front of a coronavirus-free microphone to sing. CMAC producer Kyle Lowe set up a camera and lights in the lobby, where I interviewed each singer for a couple of minutes after each act. Then it was back into the theater and another set of cameras to film the next guest.
The result: four hours of live-performance bliss.
On Saturday evening, I nabbed a press invite to the filming of Selma Arts Center’s production of “Captain Louie.” And my car still knew the way! How, you may ask, can a local theater company get away in these times with holding a live theater performance? Like my Good Company gig, this one was also carefully set up for maximum coronavirus safety. Actors on stage were masked. They’d recorded their songs beforehand and lip-synced the tunes. There were only a handful of audience members, and we sat distantly from each other, masked, as if we were enacting that mostly empty schematic of an atom you learn in high-school chemistry. (Was I a proton, electron or neutron?)
I sat through the 45-minute show totally enraptured by the acting, singing, choreography and peppy bounce of the material.
These two outings were the first time I’d been in the same room with actors since the pandemic began, other than a Children’s Musical Theaterworks showcase presentation in July (also staged in masks). I experienced many of the accoutrements of stagecraft that I have missed so much: the bright pools of light scooping out sharp, contrasting circles in the darkness; the colorful costumes contributing vivid slivers to the storytelling; the voices pumping through the sound system and enfolding the audience.
What a joy it was at the Selma production, by the way, to sit with an audience, even a tiny one. You don’t applaud in your living room when you’re watching your big ol’ TV. (If you do, it just seems a little lonely.) But in live theater, applause is part of your social interaction with the other members of the audience — and the performers. It’s a tactile thing. As I was applauding the end of each musical number in “Captain Louie,” I thought about the physical act of bringing my hands together and making noise. Clapping is the most basic form of percussion there is; humans likely produced sounds with their hands before they even thought of taking a stick and banging it on a tree for dramatic effect. Yes, I’d missed the simple act of applause.
I’ll be telling you more soon about both these productions. The GCP special episode, which will debut in November, is going to be golden, with songs from such stellar performers as Emma DenBesten, Camille Gaston, Sara Price and Christian David (along with the stellar accompaniment of Terry Lewis). The Selma production, which features such well-known local performers as Will Bishop, Jessica Meredith, Adam Chavez and more, will stream Oct. 29-31.
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Will watching both of these shows on a screen be the same as being in the same room with the performers? Well, that’s debatable. I’d venture that most of the people involved in putting both of them together would agree wholeheartedly with me that live theater is best. But some theater is better than no theater. I’m excited you’ll get to see GCP and Selma Arts Center back in action.
I’ll be even more excited when we all get to sit together. And applaud.