Theatres to reopen... but

Arts & Culture

Theatres to reopen... but

Producers, actors and playwrights concerned as Government gives green light

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, July 05, 2020

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The announcement by Government of a conditional reopening of local theatres, effective today, has been met with caution by players in the local theatre community.

While the producers, actors and playwrights are pleased that the industry is being given the opportunity to revive in wake of the shutdown since March of this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the conditions associated with this initial 14-day opening of the playhouses which is of most concern.

Dahlia Harris, whose production Case of the Ex was yanked off stage due to the pandemic, has no plans of mounting a production during this initial period. For her, one of the greatest challenges is the economics of staging a playing given Government's stipulations.

“I'm grateful that at least it's a start. The challenge, however, is most of the theatre spaces cannot open to 60 per cent plus social distancing if productions are expected to be viable. It takes us fourteen days to promote the opening of a show so it would also be next to impossible to mobilise audiences. Add to that the time it would take to prepare the show, the notice to open is way too short,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

In the meantime, Harris is already looking at alternatives to staging productions in the traditional theatre space. For her open, outdoor spaces as well as virtual, online performances are an option.

“My hope is that in the short to medium term we receive assistance to acquire equipment that will accommodate streaming of the shows. I am also hopeful that we can examine venues such as Emancipation Park, Hope Gardens, St William Grant Park, Mandela Park, Ranny Williams as performance spaces. Grants would also be needed for assistance with technical equipment,” said Harris.

Basil Dawkins had similar concerns. His production, Once a Man Twice A Wife, also had its run cut short in March due to COVID-19.

Dawkins contention is the safety of actors and patrons at this time.

“My plan is to wait until the Government gives the go ahead that patrons may assemble in an enclosed space in sufficient numbers as to make the production viable. The other consideration is the safety of the staff - actors have to interact at very close range, on stage and back stage so I have to be assured that this will not increase any risk to their health and well-being. When these conditions can be met I will be ready to roll again,” he shared.

The annual National Pantomime, which has been playing for local audiences for over 70 years, was also affected. This year's pantomime, Ruckshon Junction, which was on stage at the Little Theatre in St Andrew when the lockdown took effect, takes jabs at the Jamaican political culture while underlining a message that respect for the culture is always the way to a brighter future.

For Anya Gloudon Nelson of the Little Theatre Movement which produces the annual event, the comfort of patrons is paramount. As a result she and her team are checking to see how patrons will feel about coming out to the theatre at this time.

“There will be no point if the public does not feel safe. In the meantime, we are going through our protocols and how they will work in our spaces. In terms of the Pantomime, we have to assess safety of cast, crew, and band working together. Whether masks or shields work better. We're contemplating either reducing the musical numbers or lip syncing… cringing at that idea.”

“It would take a couple of rehearsals to reshape blocking to accommodate distancing. It would have to be at least two to three weeks for patrons to get their groups together and for us to refresh and reshape. With the reduction to capacity we have to ensure that 'right' amount to make it also feasible regarding profitability,” Gloudon Nelson added.

Playwright Patrick Brown, whose work is produced by Jambiz International,noted that while it is great that theatres are being allowed to reopen, the major concern is whether or not patrons are ready to assemble.

“That is only one part of the equation. The other major element is the willingness of an audience to sit with 100 or more strangers in a theatre laughing and carrying on,” he shared.

Brown noted he is consulting with organisations which had bought tickets for benefit performances of his latest comedy Windscream Posse, which was on stage when the lockdown came into effect.

“These are people who have been buying tickets for benefit performances to fund their various charities. We will be using their response as a kind of touch stone to determine how and where we will go. We are very conscious of the safety concerns and actually instigated closing down local theatre back in March due to the pandemic… simply put it's better to be safe rather than sorry,” said Brown.

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