Some of us look forward to the opening of the new seasons of the many theater groups in Connecticut, with the same enthusiasm that other people expect to see the games of the Baseball World Series, or The World Cup. I know this because among my friends there are fans who attending and appreciating cultural programs as well as sports.
There are 15 professional theaters across the state in Connecticut: from the Connecticut REP in Storrs at the University of Connecticut, to the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport. This year, there were 18 productions planned to be presented. However, of those, only six were able to go on stage. All the others planned to be presented in March, had to be cancelled.
Among those we were looking forward to, but will not see, was the national tour of the musical The Band, based on the movie of the same name. I had been looking forward to the opportunity to see, in the main female role, actress Janet Dacal, known to the Connecticut theater goers for her important role in the musical Bye, Bye, Birdie at Goodspeed musical in East Haddam. The Band was planned to be performed at Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford. Among the other works that were about to be released and were canceledwere: The Chinese Lady, in Long Wharf, in New Haven, and The Cake in TheaterWorks, and The King’s Speech at Hartford Stage.
As someone who deals with the staff of many of the theaters, I was very sad to read that eight employees, part of the administration of Hartford Stage were let go. Among them was our friend Theresa MacNaughton, who was in charge of Public Relations at that theater. She was someone who always facilitated my being able to interview Latino actors, directors, and playwrights who came to Hartford Stage. But. in that one theater alone, not only members of the administration lost their jobs; 50 people from the technical team many of whom have been instrumental in creating the wonderful sets and costumes, light and sounds which make each play special, were told that they could not continue working there.
When we go to the theater what we see right away are the actors creating characters, saying their lines, crying, laughing, and bringing us, as an audience into that magical world that lasts two hours or so most of the time. However, while seeing the play, we don’t ask ourselves how many carpenters painted the scenery that we see on stage; how many people designed that scenery, how many people sewed the costumes that each character wore, or who selected and designed those clothes according to the historic period, or contemporary times in which the play takes place.
The theater is itself, its own world. While the main actors in professional companies go from one place to another, in most instances, the technical team of each theater is like a family, in which many of the members have worked together for years. By having to say goodbye to each other in this difficult situation, they are not only losing their salaries, they are also losing a place where they can display their talent in each of their professions. Be it sound or lighting design, as technicians, or in charge of the in-depth research and study, that many works require so we can better understand the context of the play and develop more knowledge about what they see on stage. Just to have an idea of how many people are needed to prepare, rehearse and bring a play to a production. Let’s look for instance at the musical “Billy Elliot” at Goodspeed Musicals premiered last October. With Music by Elton John, libreto y letra de las canciones de Lee Hall. About 11 people were part of the technical aspects of the play with Marc Kimelman, creating the choreography for the ballet scenes. The orchestra, directed by Michael O’Flaherty had 8 regular musicians, alternating with 8 others depending on the night of the performance. The cast had 20 actors and 12 dancers. There was a dance captain, a stage manager, fight captain, assistant stage manager. The Goodspeed production was directed by Gabriel Barre. I am using this play to illustrate the economic effect and the number of workers, that the cancellation of just one play would represent.
But, not only the plays have been infected by this virus. The famous New York Metropolitan Opera, too, like hundreds of theaters on Broadway and nationwide, were forced to close their season. Luckily for opera lovers all over the world, Peter Gelb, the magnificent General Manager of the MET, decided to stream a different opera from the MET’s repertoire, for free. The idea was so well received that the first night, the thousands of people who wanted to see the production practically crashed the link. This problem was fixed right away, and I confess that I have spent these weeks watching not only Wagner’s famous operas from the Ring of the Nibelungen trilogy. The four operas which take us from the beginning of the ring to its end when it is returned to the maidens of the river, who are its guardians. Thanks to the MET’s initiative, millions of people worldwide will be able to enjoy these important operas in the extraordinary productions of the MET and hear enjoy the voices of the best singers from around the world. (People interested in seeing these operas can visit Met Opera: Listen Live or visit the website of Metropolitan Opera for information on how to view them on your phone, computer or television.
In a recent television interview, Gelb confessed the sadness he felt at being forced to close the doors of this famous institution and cancel the operations, but most importantly, also having to leave almost 2,000 people from their technical teams unemployed. How the closing of just one theater affects other businesses can be easily seen. I recently read an article about a laundry service in New York City which specialized in cleaning theater costumes. They will probably have to close because of a lack of business.
While the curtains are down in theaters, their lights are out at the museums and Museums and galleries have closed their door, they have tried to find ways to continue providing a way to share their programs, exhibits, and collections. In a way, the CORONA virus has brought us closer to the rest of the world, however, as we mourn with families who have lost loved ones, and as we are staying home to prevent the contagion from spreading, we must remember the moments of happiness we had attending arts programs. For some of us, the arts in all its forms is a fundamental aspect of how we live our lives. If baseball lovers, enjoy a good game, those of us attending an extraordinary play share the feeling of witnessing a “home-run with full bases” winning a game for our favorite team.
Please stay home. And, when this pandemic ends, and the uncertainty of our survival disappears, and when we finally can try to return to a “normal” life, to something we are used to, please don’t forget all the places where the arts have given us moments in which we have been able to reach out to hug each other, without knowing each other, and remember that a virus is not going to be the one to rob us of our humanity.
This article expands the one which was first published in Spanish in Identidad Latina with the title: Un virus que invadio los teatros y nuestras pasiones.
Bessy Reyna is a member of the Connecticut Association of Theater Critics.