Grace Jordan, Campus Carrier arts & living editor
COVID-19 has had an impact on every facet of life, one of them being live theater. Theater productions have been forced to either go online or stop altogether. This decision has changed life for numerous people in the industry and has created a new avenue of theater: virtual performance.
John Arlan Banes, an actor residing in New York City, has had his way of life uprooted. He has been in theater since high school, and it has developed into his passion.
“I started getting involved in my local community theaters the summer before I started high school, back in 2008,” Banes said. “From that first summer, I fell in love and ran headlong toward any theatrical opportunity I could reasonably fit into my life, sometimes more. I graduated from Ball State University with a BFA in Musical Theatre in 2016 and have worked steadily in the field since that very day, until the industry shutdown.”
Before COVID-19, he worked on a cruise line for most months out of the year and during the time between those contracts he would work in as many performances as he could. Now, however, he works at a tech company to make ends meet.
“These days I work remotely for a tech company,” Banes said. “The people are kind and the security is comforting, but not a single day goes by that I do not miss singing for a live audience, or having the opportunity to see a show playing nearby.”
Although Banes has taken part in some virtual theater productions, in his experience, it isn’t the same as live theater.
“I haven’t been focused much on creating or taking part in virtual content,” Banes said. “Though I do like to support my friends in their projects, and have enjoyed having access to more content from big musicians and Broadway stars. However, I couldn’t possibly convey in words just how different these experiences have been from being in a room with breathing, sweating, feeling human beings. Virtual theatricality may have its merits, but it just is not and could never be anything close to what live theater is. The day theater returns to the world will be a very, very joyful day.”
David Alford is a visiting Artist-in-Residence at Berry and talks about the economic impact COVID-19 has had on theater.
“From an economic standpoint, it’s really hit New York City hard,” Alford said. “And not just producers and everyone else who stands to lose a ton of money, but actors themselves are suddenly out of work. It’s not just that they can’t work on Broadway, but they also can’t pick up tours and there’s really no live performances. So, it’s really been a devastating blow. I know the union in particular, my union actor’s equity is reeling now because they have health insurance and all sorts of other things that they try to save up for and something like this, they are suddenly getting no contribution from the actors because the actors aren’t working. It really has a ripple effect. It’s been tough.”
Danielle Threet, registered nurse and actor in the Nashville area, has gone from performing in live theater to virtual theater, as well.
“I’m a nurse full time, but I also try to do theater whenever I can,” Threet said. “It’s so hard because theater is my outlet. That’s my love, its my passion,and it’s gone. Or, at least, taken a different form. It’s definitely not near the same as getting to perform for an actual audience.”
On top of the economic hardships actors and those involved in theater productions have encountered, there is also an emotional side to it.
“We’re just trying to not go insane,” Threet said. “Not being able to perform openly for people has been hard. It has taken an emotional toll on a lot of people.”
While the shutdown has been hard for many people, there are, however, positive aspects in the transition from live theater to virtual.
“I’ve gotten to perform for a couple professionals in New York,” Threet said. “That was a really cool experience. Which is funny because if this had not happened, I probably would’ve never had that opportunity. Because with a lot of stuff being shut down in person, a lot of stuff has had to be moved to the internet. It actually allows people who may not be from New York or LA or wherever they do major theater to be seen and heard when normally they might not be otherwise.”
Threet explained that live theater has been forced to take a different form and there are numerous hardships that come with that decision. However, this does not mean the end of theater.
“Theater is resilient, the theater community is extremely resilient,” Threet said. “They’re finding ways to adapt to the current situation. We have found ways to try to keep entertainment going at least in some sense, even if that means throwing on a mop for a wig and singing to a track in your living room. If you can still sing and make someone smile, you’re doing your job.”