The Brookings Institution recently reported that the performing arts have been the most at risk and the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis of all the creative arts industries. It was estimated that, nationwide, almost 1.4 million jobs and $42.5 billion in sales have been lost to date.
Like so many other theaters, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival closed its doors in March. Says company member Tess Burgler, “we were smackdab in the middle of our run of ‘Saint Joan,’ were about to start rehearsals for ‘Miss Holmes’ and had just announced our next indoor season at Greystone Hall. And then it was gone.” Also cancelled was the company’s summer outdoor season productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Othello.”
But rather than wait out COVID-19 or venture into virtual productions to be seen online, the OSF staged 16 live performances of Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield‘s comedy “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised].” The show, which parodies bits and pieces of all of the Bard’s 37 plays in just 97 mad-cap minutes, ran from July 17 – Aug. 9 to sold-out audiences.
How was this accomplished?
They chose a play with a small cast (Ryan Zarecki, James Rankin and Natalie Steen) and already in their back pocket, having staged “The Complete Works…” four times over the past three years.
“Abridged” and “revised” appear in the play’s title in acknowledgement of the show’s treatment of the source material, but the authors allowed the OSF to also cut out the intermission so to limit audience interaction and eliminate most of the sound and lighting elements so to minimize the size of the production crew (Burgler served as director and stage manager).
The show was performed outdoors on secured private property – the Lagoon area of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens – with the approval of the Summit County Health Commissioner and the taking of every imaginable safety precaution. “We needed a large outdoor space,” says artistic director Nancy Cates, “so that we could create 6-foot squares around every seat” and there needed to be enough seats to make the enterprise financially feasible. Sales were limited to 70 patrons, which was 25 percent of a typical house under normal circumstances.
And following the National Basketball Association’s protocol, the cast and crew lived together in a quarantined “bubble” during the weeks prior to rehearsal and until the final performance.
While hardly a sustainable or replicable formula, live theater has returned – at least for a short time – to Northeast Ohio.
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