Perspective. In this time of increased isolation, perhaps, it is even harder to avoid the dreaded echo chamber of your own thoughts. You know, the “not seeing the forest for the trees” thing. The multi-perspective approach is important in all facets of life but seems to be an endangered concept in the current political and social climate. Collaborative theater-making can thrive on the multi-perspective approach, but it takes work. It takes even more work in this new normal of Zoom rehearsals, virtual meetings, and socially distanced theatre. I’m gonna make a sweeping generalization that I’m pretty sure is spot on. Theatre makers are exhausted. Of course, we’re not alone. However, the existential threat of survival and the re-thinking our entire business and artistic model is… Well, there are so many damn trees in front of that forest that we don’t know if we’ll ever see it. Then, a patron sends a word of encouragement. Maybe there’s a check along with it. Don’t get us wrong. We need the money, but the words fill our spirit. Much appreciated. Then, an actor sends an unsolicited blog post that reminds the staff that all the problems and challenges we must solve everyday have an incredible impact on the artists we serve. By the way, the author of this blog post was hesitant to send this our way, cause she was concerned about her writing. She kept it to herself for a while. Perspective. No one can do this alone, y’all.
I got cast in The Immigrant in June 2019. The Immigrant was set to go up June 2020. I remember laughing and thinking, anything could happen in a year! I could be dead! And look, I’m not dead, but I wasn’t wrong. Anything can and does happen in a year.
Before I get into all the juicy, sexy behind the scene secrets like… who wore masks (everyone), who kissed who (no one), who dubbed my singing voice (jk it was me), allow me to quickly express some thoughts on the space between getting cast and putting on this show. This was my first Equity gig. A lead role. A dream theatre. I spent almost a full year in nervous, excited anticipation. Enter COVID. The show was in limbo until May. I was caught between grieving and hoping, and then grieving and gratitude because the show would go on. But it wasn’t the show I spent a year dreaming of. The show would go on with new actors and zoom rehearsals and a green screen. It was bittersweet for me. But now that we’ve done it and some time has passed, it is simply sweet.
So let’s get into it. The Good. Have you guys ever worked with an Equity theatre? It’s truly everything I’ve dreamed of. A dialect coach, a Yiddish consultant, a dramaturg. A robust folder of historical context, Yiddish dialect and language sound files. COVID did not change my beloved behind the scenes work. The line learning and walking around my house speaking Yiddish. The challenging and satisfying personal research. I love this work. And it is so wonderful to work with a theatre that has both the resources and the desire to pour into you so that you can bring the most truth to the story and the character. This is what I bombed a hundred auditions to get to. This is what I will bomb a hundred more auditions to get to.
The good is that my 94-year-old grandmother got to watch the show, something she would not have been able to do had it been a traditional production (I’m not gonna lie. It took a couple tries for her to figure out the whole streaming thing, but she made it happen.) I had friends and family watching from Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Montana. Maybe a couple of them would’ve made it in person, but definitely not all. Some of the cast and crew had family and friends watching from other countries. Even the playwright and some of his family watched it. And as a big tv and film fan, I geeked out that an actor I’ve seen onscreen has also seen me onscreen.
The Good is that storytelling hasn’t become null because of this pandemic. If anything, we need it more. At its best, storytelling generates empathy, creates transformation, and leads to action. Stories turn numbers and statistics into rich human experience and make it that much harder to look away from the beauty and complexity of each human life. Because no matter how different we are, our joy and our suffering connect us.
Hard pivot. The weird is that theatre is where I get my fix of physical and emotional contact. (Theatre, the dentist, doctor’s office… I love when they use the tiny hammer on my knees to make sure the reflexes are working). I miss the direct eye contact and physical touch of being onstage with someone. I wanted to reach out in comfort. I wanted to hold hands and dance. There are certain elements that cannot be translated to the digital world. Hugs and handholds. The heat of the lights. Flying snot and sweat. All those nasty nasty germs! Oh baby! (Please wear your masks).
The weird is the absence of adrenaline. That adrenaline we so despise and chase after, that makes us feel both very nauseous and very alive. It’s just not there without the audience and the terrifying and thrilling possibility that things might go awry.
The weird is that my scene partner was a tripod with some eyes taped on. A voice calling out from the stands. My acting training consists of a class here and there and one 6-week Meisner intensive. The gist of Meisner is to place your entire focus on your scene partner, to take in every part of them, every detail of their face, every gesture, every little expression… take it all in and let it affect you. I did what I could with the floating voice and tripod eyes, but of course it’s different. There’s all these little missed connections, in the same way our communication gets diluted when we hear a voice on the phone without a face. Or words on the screen without a voice.
This experience was like a long-distance relationship. Not ideal, but not forever. And even though It’s not ideal, I’d rather zoom call than breakup. Because I’m madly in love with theatre. For everything I had to let go of in the way I envisioned this experience, there came something new. I got to be a part of something new. And it was weird and good and beautiful.