Live theatre is back? Well, sort of. Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has recently begun performances of “Godspell Under the Tent” in what is one of the first returns to live theatre in America, and one of the first Equity-approved performances as well. (The other approved performance, FYI, is also in MA – it’s Barrington Stage Company’s production of David Cale’s one-man show Harry Clark.)
The show follows strict safety guidelines from the audience to the performers. From BTG’s website:
Temperature scans will be done for patrons at their point of entry. No-contact scanning stations for tickets will be placed at point of entry, spaced at least 6 feet from the temperature scan. Free-standing hand sanitizer stations will be placed at various locations throughout the space. Patrons will be required to wear masks. One way traffic patterns will be enforced with arrows and 6 foot markers on the floor, as well as lines down the center of hallways, to and from the tent, restrooms and concessions. The restrooms will have entrance and exits that are separate and one way. Every other stall, urinal and sink will be marked not usable. A doctor/nurse will be on duty for all performances. Additional safeguards will also be in place.
Not only do they have those safeguards, the cast is distanced from each other as well on stage. Ben Brantley outlined these choices in his New York Times review.
The golden rule here takes the form of their nearly always keeping at least six feet from one another. Whenever they have to cross one another’s paths they make sure their masks (bunched around their necks) are pulled into place. When a chorus sings Schwartz’s tuneful earwig pop gospel — an activity known to let spittle fly — it does so behind the transparent panels of Randall Parsons’s beautifully utilitarian set. (Matthew E. Adelson’s patterned lighting helps keep it from looking like a doctor’s waiting room.)
Now, I love theatre, and yes, I do love Godspell – I think it was a great metaphorical choice to be one of the first returns to theatre. But I have to say…is it worth it? The audience and the performers both have to wear masks. Everyone has to be socially distanced. And though I understand they are all taking massive precautions, it still feels risky to me. The NYT review features a picture of the socially distanced audience and you can clearly see two theatre-goers wearing their masks incorrectly. Despite the safeguards, there are certainly still risks. I worry especially about the crew, who absolutely find it harder to socially distance and be safe while setting up things like the set and microphones.
Though, I have to say, in regards to it being worth it – it does appear that all performances are sold out (this may be because the distanced audience can only seat 75, however).
Overall, I guess I would have to attend the production and see how everything works myself to make an absolute judgment on this show. I do wonder if we will be seeing more Equity-approved productions similar to this. I know that the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ has been doing theatre under a tent as well. I only know this because it is local to me, so I am sure there are other theatres around the country doing the same thing.
To me, however, it just doesn’t seem worth it. There are just too many risks involved for cast, crew and audiences alike. I empathize with those out of work, but this doesn’t feel right to me. Though, with the government resisting funding the arts during this time, I can understand why artists feel the need to put on socially distanced theatre. I wish that unemployment would be extended, and that the arts would receive grants and funding to ensure that when it is time, it can return fully. But I would much rather everyone stay home and wait until we can perform theatre safely.
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