What do we do in the theatre when there is no theater?

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Empty theater Photo credit: Matthew Gilson

At the most fundamental level, the theater connects artists with an audience at one time, in one space. That's about presence. You show up at eight o'clock, the lights come up, you see a show.

We are together.

Dig deeper and the connection gets vastly more rich and complicated. Connecting with an audience means understanding the moment in time we are living in; appreciating the particular place where you are making theater. What is happening here and now?

Theater must do more than simply reflect our moment. It must care for its audience's soul through that moment.

So what do we do when the first part of that equation is severed? Our theaters are closed(along with our stadiums and our bars and our restaurants). We in the theater are not alone...but we are not together.

Our time is scary and our space is shut. How do we go on when the show doesn’t go on?

Well first, we must take care of ourselves and our audience.

The big decision has been made, now make all the others that support everyone’s health. Take care of your people, you will need them. Take care of your audience, they still need you.

Second, listen to a drag queen.

In "A 24 Decade History of Popular Music" Taylor Mac's oft repeated refrain was "this is going to go on a lot longer than you want it to." It will.

Taylor Mac used the experience of a different plague, the AIDS epidemic, to forge a community from a theater full of strangers. Mary Shelley used her plague quarantine to write "Frankenstein" and Shakespeare jotted down not just "Lear" but "MacBeth" and "Antony and Cleopatra."

Time is not the enemy of art but loss of connection is.

Third, stay connected.

While we are physically apart remain socially connected to your artists and to your audience. The best theaters and the best artists will recognize this need and connect across this pandemic fourth wall. If you want to support those artists, let them know. Buy a gift certificate for next season. If you can, offer support. Send an email about that show last season you are still thinking about and the plays you can't wait to see.

The paradox of this moment is that while we are being told to be apart we are all strangely connected - we just need to find one another.

Fourth, remember it’s best to solve an act five problem in act one.

This drama will come to a close ... eventually.

We will return to the theater and the bar and the stadium. We will be changed but we will return. Take this time to plan for that return.

As an audience member: find a new theater to add to your list; find a new friend to take to the theater; read a new playwright.

As a theater maker: learn from this moment, listen, recognize our theater will be different from how we left it. Our audience's souls will need care. We will need to remember how to carelessly laugh, how to be together.

We will need to be back in the same time and the same place.

And fifth, as Lady Macbeth reminds us - wash your hands!