Missed it by that much.
Just under a year ago, I was given the honor of working as the Reader’s theater critic. For a while, I joked that God was so horrified at the prospect that he killed the entire industry just to stop me. But I don’t make that joke any more, because it’s not that funny if the part about killing the industry is true.
After giving me five months to get my bearings, the editors were set to feature my review of La Jolla Playhouse’s Fly on the March 19 cover. But on March 12, the Playhouse suspended all performances. Scrambling, I emailed San Diego Rep; House of Joy was still slated to play that evening, so we still had a show to review. An hour later, it wasn’t and we didn’t. The Old Globe shut down the same day.
The Old Globe emailed last week: Artistic Director Barry Edelstein explaining the theatrical tradition of The Ghost Light. “Every theatre has one. When the show is done and everyone has left the building, a bulb on stage is left burning” — for safety reasons, or to light the way for the ghosts of actors past, take your pick. Continued a grateful but still pleading Edelstein, “You are keeping the lights on — even if it’s just a ghost light — during this great intermission.”
“This great intermission” — that’s a lyrical and perhaps kind way to put it. During that intermission, local theaters are scrambling to reinvent themselves online. The Globe offers a plethora of engagements, both educational and performative. La Jolla Playhouse has five new digital Without Walls shows, including a dance/poetry film, a spoken word piece, and a radio horror series. San Diego Rep just livestreamed Get Happy: Angela Ingersoll Sings Judy Garland. Diversionary Theater is offering free streams of AmeriQueer, an “online streaming audiocast of new plays.” This week, Vinson Cunningham published a piece in The New Yorker about how audiences are adapting to the age of virtual theater; San Diego seems to be keeping pace with New York in that department.
But Cunningham also noted that “in the theatre, each ticket buyer plays a role. The quality of our attention—silent or ecstatic, galled or bored — is a kind of freestanding, always improvising character, and makes each in-person performance unrepeatable. Call it the congregational art, and remember how you once practiced it: it has something to do with location, and feeling, and your invisible relationship with individual performers and the whole panoply of action on the stage.”
Amen. And while that relationship is invisible, it’s anything but intangible. What’s theater got that movies ain’t? The energy in the room. It’s hard to imagine that energy animating a socially distanced space. It’s even harder to imagine the gray heads that usually make up most of the audience feeling eager to pack a house in a post-covid world, vaccine or no vaccine.
Theater people are famously creative; they’ll find ways tell their stories. But I’m curious (not to say anxious) to see what happens now that the audience is no longer captive.