Rehearsing Theatre During the Pandemic

Today was the first time I attended an in-person rehearsal in almost a year. It was for AliBi, Technodramatists’ first livestream theatre experience, which is set to premiere on February 6th. We started working on this project nearly a year ago as an in-person show. Back then we didn’t call an in-person show because we never conceived we’d produce any other other kind. But here we are.

We’re limiting the amount of folks in the rehearsal room so our director can still run the show from an iPhone.

On top of the challenges of producing a new piece of theatre while developing and implementing new performance technologies, we’re also faced with the far more significant task of keeping everyone on our cast and crew healthy and safe. We’re getting tested — long lines be damned, masking up and staying distant. Theatre is about creating connections and while these measures certainly encumber that endeavor, I can’t express the impact these few hours of rehearsal had on me and the process. In future posts I’ll go into more detail about the specifics of producing theatre during the pandemic, but here I’d like to take a few moments to focus on the human element.

Since May we’ve been working remotely through video chat, logging hundreds of hours of team meetings, development sessions, and tech demos. We accomplished a lot but lacking the immediacy of being physically together created a disjointed process where many important questions simply could not be answered. Fortunately, Johnny Butler, Alex Jenkins and Nick Alselmo, the three performers at the heart of the show have formed a bubble and have been working together for the last month, making extraordinary progress in that short time. But even the most well-captured video cannot replace being in the room. I’m a theatre artist because I love the alchemical nature of the art form, how a play is so much more than the sum of its parts. Scripts only come alive when the words on the page are finally breathed out of an actor’s mouth. A director can create energy in a rehearsal room that seeps on to the stage and into audiences’ hearts. Together, lighting, set, and sound designers craft fully realized universes in the confines of a dark room that touch our senses and imaginations simultaneously. So much of this magic is sparked by being physically together and the spontaneity afforded by sharing space and time. Sometimes you only know a joke works because the sound engineer, who is seemingly absorbed in setting up microphones or cables, unexpectedly lets out a loud chuckle when an actor gives a new line reading. Often, the chance to find the most creative solutions to understanding a scene will arise in casual discussions on a break, when the pressure of hitting a scene just right during rehearsal is taken away. As much as I believe in the power of technology, there is no app that can recreate this scenario remotely.

I put up an AR wall for extra safety!

I know that this isn’t unique to the theatre and folks of all professions are longing to get back to their places of business, to be and work together, doing what they do, whether that’s making art or making spreadsheets (that’s what all non-artists do, right?), but today I felt a bit of theatre magic and I’m sure I’m going to need to hold on to this feeling. We’ve got 3 weeks till we open and so much can and will go wrong. We may even have to go against the old show biz adage that the show must go on. if for any reason anyone’s safety is put at risk, we’ll cancel or postpone the show. Magic or no magic, theatre is about people and we will always put our people first. But theatre is also about reacting and being true to the moment, so that’s what we’ll do. I’m grateful for the beautiful moments I got to behold today, for the uncertain moments ahead, and most of all I’m grateful for the ininimatably talented and fearless people I get to work with, and when we’re all (virtually) together for the show on February 6th, I’m certain you will see why.

Tickets for AliBi: a reality-bending livestream theatre experience are now available at www.technodramatists.com

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