What to do when theatres are locked down during the Covid-19 crisis? Reach for your mobile and cancel your theatre tickets? Maybe not. Apart from directors, actors and creatives, the theatre employs ushers, ticket staff, backstage, install crews, security and hospitality staff, and when the theatres re-open they will need funds desperately. So, if possible, donate the price of your cancelled ticket or ask for a non-cash credit for a future performance.
Having generously donated, what now? Out of a sympathetic interest you might look at how some performance groups are coping with the crisis. Director Anna Jahjah of Théâtre Excentrique, whose play was set to open just two days after the lockdown was announced, responded with a lively sense of humour by posting this on LinkedIn:
“After Love in the Time of Cholera, introducing Rehearsals in the Time of Corona. Performances of Tideline by Wajdi Mouawad have been postponed but rehearsals are still going strong, and we thank the internet for that.” [#zoommeetings] Like Jahjah, both theatre lovers and theatre companies have good reason to be grateful to our new best thespian friend, the internet.
First up you can go to https://www.timeout.com/theatre/best-streaming-theatre-shows-how-to-watch-online and stream amazing plays, musicals and dance shows. You can access New York’s Broadway, London’s West End and your own Australian lively theatre scene. At home, your sofa is the best seat in the house and you can sing along, tap your toes or sniff loudly during a weepie without disturbing anyone. You will need to research what is on offer as the various theatres offer a range of performances at different dates and times.
For instance, on Saturday April 18, the fabulous Bangarra streamed Bennelong – its soul-stirring exploration of the life of one of our history’s most iconic Aboriginal figures. On April 5, the Australian Ballet launched its digital program “At Home with Ballet TV” beginning with The Sleeping Beauty, followed by Cinderella, and Romeo and Juliet to be shown from May 1-15. Griffin, under the corny title “The theatre may be closed, but Griffin is evergreen – we won’t leaf you!” introduced the Griffin Lock-In, which gives viewers access to five nights in which specially commissioned artists create and perform made-for-livestream works from their home with only a week’s notice.
Of course, we may say such an innovation is no substitute for live theatre but, for those open to new experience, it can be rewarding. A dear friend of mine recently watched a reading of Lyle Kessler’s 1983 black comedy Orphans, streamed on Facebook and YouTube by Red Line Productions, a small Sydney Theatre company. The reading featured the well-known Alec Baldwin, Australian actors Andrew Henry and Aaron Glenane, and American actress Judy Jerome reading the stage directions and descriptions – with all four performers connected from their homes around the globe. My friend wrote, “I loved it! It was so uplifting and affirming to have that opportunity to be part of that innovative approach to enjoying a play.”
How the present need for isolation and consequent reliance upon digital technologies will shape theatre-going behaviour post-Covid and impact upon live theatre productions remains to be seen. Once it was thought that cinema would mean the end of live theatre, and now cinema itself is struggling to survive. Considering the huge demand for streamed entertainment, it may be that streaming live performances will be a means of increasing the audience of both cinema and theatre.