March 12th, 2020 was the day that theatre lights went out on Broadway. At the time, we thought it simply meant “taking a break for a couple of weeks to let things settle”. Over a year later, many theatre doors still remain closed and bolted. While theatre artists temporarily paused operations and patiently waited for the clearance to return to performance venues, when the pause became “indefinite”, the community decided to embrace a shift to a digital platform in order to “stay afloat”. Although I haven’t personally met an individual within the theatre industry that prefers the alternative of “virtual theatre” over the traditional version of the artform, I am surprised to see the amount of unique “live theatrical entertainment” which has come out over the past year (as well as its impressive quality within recent performances).
At the beginning of last semester, when I heard that our productions at USC would take the form of “production experiences”, I was concerned that I would be putting effort into a mandated project without gaining skills that I could apply to my work in technical theatre when we returned in-person. However, I would have never expected to learn something valuable from online “performance experiences” that I wouldn’t have gathered from a production in-person.
The first ever production that I worked on at USC as a part of the School of Dramatic Arts was an online interactive experience called “Knave of Hearts”. Working on the project as a “Web Manager”, I had my first interactions with Photoshop, a tool that I would continue to use in my theatre classes and productions that followed afterwards. This production opened my eyes to the diversity of art which could be considered “theatrical” and how various platforms could elevate the depth of the “production’s performance”.
The most recent production that I was a part of at USC was “Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles”, a documentary theatre piece developed with USC’s Arts in Action that explored climate change through the lens of Los Angeles’ sacrifice zones. My work as an assistant scenic designer on this production required me to find research images as well as virtual backgrounds in order to bring the actors (who were all performing in separate locations) together in the play’s world. This project showed me how theatre could directly play a part within local activism and spreading awareness in order to encourage important change.
Through being involved in these “production experiences” while physical theatre curtains are still closed, my knowledge as a theatrical artist has expanded in ways of which I may not have otherwise experienced at my time during USC. While theatre artists are certainly aware that current circumstances aren’t the “norm for the artform”, the adaptations which have taken place in attempts to continue storytelling have served as a true testament to the evolutions of theatre. As we get sooner to opening up those stage doors once again, theatre artists and audience members alike can reflect on the wonderful work done during the past year while fully embracing what’s next in store.