By Mark Dreisonstok
The coronavirus pandemic has caused enormous upheaval around the world in terms of sickness, deaths, job losses, and shattered economies. The performing arts and its many venues are no exception to this. But Falls Church and Fairfax regional theatres have come up with innovative programs to compensate for the many performances canceled due to shelter-in-place requirements by “virtualizing” their offerings, while others are offering classes and providing helpful guidance on how to experience the arts online.
One prime example is Falls Church’s Creative Cauldron, which has been offering classes online “for ages 4 to 104” and is in the process of moving its performing arts summer camps to a virtual model as well. Creative Cauldron’s YouTube channel currently hosts original Learning Theater productions, including streams of fairytale adaptations. Student actors help build the story, and the production is bolstered by professional sets, costumes and original music by the Cauldron’s resident artists. Creative Cauldron also hosts video projects made by children and plans to stream a concert series.
When asked what role the creative arts might play in helping our community through this pandemic, managing director Ellen Selby replied: “Art plays the role it always plays; telling the hard truths, reflecting our dreams and fears, providing an outlet for all of our feelings, good, bad and in between, bridging us, keeping us active and imaginative, telling stories, and somewhat surprisingly, keeping us social.
“At Cauldron, we’re committed to providing excellent arts and arts education at an accessible price point, and those tenets haven’t changed; we feel a responsibility to support our community more than ever,” she said.
This spring the Cauldron has been holding a fundraiser called #CauldronLove. The group has been able thus far to balance growing costs with a steadfast commitment to compensating artists fairly.
Providence Players of Fairfax, whose productions are often covered by the Falls Church News-Press, has had to cancel its June performances of “Enchanted April.” Fortunately, the theatre group is continuing dramatic productions virtually, furthering the group’s goal of offering quality, affordable, entertainment experiences to current and new audiences, while at the same time promoting the Players’ core values of participation and learning through creative expression.
The group’s current twelve-minute production, “The Story of the Tattoo” by Karen Zacarías, is now streaming on YouTube, with a clever arrangement of actors in a virtual plane-flight set design featuring a bizarre conversation by airline passengers ranging from tattoos, to witchcraft, to — appropriate for May — Mother’s Day.
To help those in the community who are suffering during the current pandemic, Providence Players has established a Covid-19 Emergency Assistance Fund and will apply all donations to help support those impacted negatively by this crisis in Falls Church and Fairfax.
1st Stage Theater in Tysons found itself in a bit of a jam; licensing concerns render the group unable to stream its current productions online and video of previous productions is not of streaming quality.
The repertory company has, however, announced a series of virtual “Community Conversations” with 1st Stage staff and artists. These conversations delve into the process of creating theatre, whether it be from the perspective of devising new work, auditioning via Zoom, or developing solo performances. 1st Stage also continues work on the show that was being prepared when the shutdown occurred, “A New Brain” by William Finn and James Lapine, which it plans to present in the future.
1st Stage’s associate producer Emily Wall has an inspiring message. When we asked about the importance of the performing arts in crises such as Covid-19, she responded: “I actually think the impact of the arts has been magnified in light of this crisis. In our darkest times, we turn to the arts to brighten our day. The arts are what will get our souls through this uncertain time, and I hope that when things return to ‘normal,’ people are encouraged to fight for the arts institutions that will need their support more than ever.”
Further, she reports being “overwhelmed by the community support we have seen since our shutdown was announced on March 16…We applied for and received support from the various SBA programs made possible through the CARES Act. We have also received unanticipated support from several generous institutional funders including the Share Fund, American Theatre Wing, and ArtsFairfax.”
The City of Fairfax Theatre Company (CFTC) is also adapting to the circumstances brought on by the pandemic.
Traditionally, the company’s biggest challenge has been not owning a venue, but renting performance space instead.
Yet this has allowed them greater flexibility in rescheduling and relocating productions.
Such is the case for their first outdoor show ever, a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” now planned to be staged at the Veteran’s Amphitheater in the City of Fairfax.
This location will offer more seating space between attendees to comply with social distancing recommendations in effect at that time.
CFTC’s Producing Director Kirsten Boyd has also put together a program providing online classes and camps during the time when FCPS was closed in March.
When asked what role the performing arts play in our pandemic, artistic director Amanda Herman told News-Press: “The performing arts allows us to experience multiple perspectives and practice empathy, which is so important right now.”
While some theatre companies are now streaming online versions of full productions with sets and costumes, CFTC has taken a more interactive approach: On April 1, it offered a kind of online theatrical book club, presenting Shaksepeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in a virtual reading.
The performance surprised this reviewer with its combination of high quality and fun spontaneity, featuring in particular a vibrant performance by Adam Ressa as Dogberry. Such book-club dramatic readings have become regular online fare at the CFTC.
It is indeed heartening to know that in our area so many wonderful innovations and plans for the future are taking place as these theatres — to quote the great bard Shakespeare — “make a virtue of necessity!”