From a Zoom rehearsal for Raise You Up – Photo: Imprint Theatreworks

PRODUCING IN A PANDEMIC

2020, THEATER

Ashley H. White’s Square One column returns, as is theater, even if slowly and in a way we’re not used to. In this edition she writes about getting into a new groove.

by Ashley H. White

published Monday, September 7, 2020

Dallas — “What are we going to do?” 

This question echoed around the country in March. There was no certainty, there were no clear pathways, there was simply a vast unknown that the entire world was looking toward.

To say 2020 has changed the trajectory of the performing arts landscape is an understatement. Around the world, venues, organizations, companies, and collectives have darkened, suspended, and even shuttered. It’s been bleak and scary, and for many months we all sat and waited, reaching out as we could and hoping for some clarity for when and how we could gather again in the future to share in this art we all love.

As the pandemic spread and the likeliness of a traditional return to stage in 2020 dissipated, that question evolved.

“What can we do?”

Theatre has a history of breaking barriers. This art we all love is malleable and strong, a strength that is born from sincere human connection. Theatre artists are also a mighty scrappy bunch and when you tell us we can’t, we rarely sit still for long. We find ways to act (and act, if you will — yes, I groaned just typing it).

Sign at Imprint’s recent tech week rehearsal – Photo: Ashley H. White

At this point I must pay huge homage and shout out to the early visionaries. Stage West graced us with their production of The Children, which was halted in the midst of shutdown and Theatre Three filmed a production of The Immigrant entirely in isolation that reached national audiences in a time when programming was non-existent. Prism Movement Theatre broke barriers with a unique outdoor production/drive-in experience, Everything Will Be Fineand even partnered with local organization PAAL, to provide access for parents and children to experience the production. These are just three examples of local companies who have chosen to pursue our art in this new world, but the list goes on.

What this all tells me is that the DFW Theatre Community is not only strong, not only capable, but we are resilient and we will find ways to nurture and provide for our audiences.

The IMPRINT team has been meeting weekly for months to try to determine just how we fit into this landscape and evaluating what we can bring to our community to provide artistic content that engages and connects. Last month, we announced our Digital Season, which includes two entirely filmed productions and a hybrid film and outdoor production, which you can read more about here.

In a world with no answers, we are given infinite possibilities. The trick therein being that we absolutely must move forward responsibly and with utmost caution. 

That caution has been a topic of discussion and focus for our teams since the very first conversation. Last Saturday, we aired the first of our Digital Season, Raise You Up — a streamed compilation of song, dance, testimony, and enthusiasm that aimed to encourage and celebrate the artists we have here at home.

I can tell you now from personal experience that the production process looks very different. 

The first step IMPRINT did was establish guidelines, protocols, and a plan. All of our rehearsals have been through Zoom, and let me tell you, rehearsing in those tiny boxes presents a world of challenges. Our Music Director, Vonda Bowling, wasn’t able to hear all parts together until we pulled recordings and layered them on top each other, mixing dozens of scratch tracks simply to note and then re-record.

We also had two days of extremely distanced and cautionary filming. These days included strict schedules, questionnaires, temperature checks, masks, face shields, sanitizing, enforcing social distancing at all times,  singing to a camera in a completely empty room, and more. It’s like nothing we’ve ever done before. But for now, this is our new normal.

Tech week no longer included late nights at a theater running cues and refocusing transitions. It was late nights behind computer screens editing and then zooming with the team as we watched and tweaked numerous rough cuts. 

The end result was something we are all incredibly proud of, but the sheer number of hours that went into making it happen was eye opening. I cannot begin to properly describe the commitment and focus of all of the artists (more than 50 from across the Metroplex!!) involved in making this production a success.

IMPRINT was only one show and one festival into our Third Season (originally titled Home; awkward, we know) when we went into shut down. While we are very proud of the work we have accomplished to this point, we also have to acknowledge that we are still very young. This new challenge ahead of us was unpredictable, but I have to say the unwavering focus and commitment from our team and our collaborators invigorates and inspires me as we continue to work toward our mission of uniting and engaging audiences through theatrical experiences. 

Theatrical experiences — wow. Who knew how important those two words would be to us when we wrote our mission back in 2016.

After Raise You Up aired, one viewer wrote us afterward and said:  “I am not made whole, but I am made to hope. Thank you.”

We hope alongside you. 

Is it easy? No. 

Is it challenging? Extremely. 

Can we do it? Yes. 

Here we are, friends. It’s September and we are focusing creative energy toward filling the voids in our hearts while the ghost lights remain lit on our stages.

Onward.

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