Advice for Young Theatre-Makers During COVID-19 (Part Two)

June 26, 2020

Continued from his previous blog, Dylan Schifrin, author of All of You, The Exceptional Childhood Center and The Frankenstein Revenge Society, gives advice and encouragement for other young theatre artists who are navigating the pandemic. 

How do we go forward in a field that's indefinitely on hold (and may never look the same again)? Whether you're an actor, writer, director, designer, producer, stage manager, some combination of the above, or just have a general interest in theatre and aren't sure what your path forward will be yet, I hope some of my advice resonates with—or even inspires—you.

1. Reach out. I can't stress this enough! We may be isolated, but remember that complete isolation is a choice. Theatre is an extremely collaborative art form. And chances are, if you love theatre, some (if not most or even all) of your friends do, too. If you perform, hold rehearsals over Zoom. If you write, collaborate on something, or ask your friends to do a staged reading of your play. The good news is that concrete plans basically don't exist anymore—creative people everywhere are itching to make art. And if you ever feel lonely or lost, remember that we are all going through this as well. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Ever.

2. Be innovative. Theaters may be closed and large gatherings may be prohibited, but that doesn't mean we can't adapt to a new set of restrictions. There are some great plays being written now for Zoom or other online conference services. (If you haven't seen it, check out the Public Theater's presentation of Richard Nelson's What Do We Need to Talk About?). Ultimately, theatre is the most primal form of storytelling; it has existed in cultures of all eras and geographies, regardless of what was available to them at the time. It's up to us to find new, creative ways forward. (Just maybe hold off on writing COVID-19 plays for now—it's easy to become myopic when we write about a crisis from within it.)

3. Read, watch, listen. Plays, books, TV, film—it's all (mostly) good! Use this time to pick up a copy of that novel you've been interested in but just never got around to reading. Listen to audiobooks or musical soundtracks on your next quarantine walk. As storytellers, our minds crave a consistent diet of creative material. You never know when you'll stumble across something that just might inspire your next theatrical undertaking.

4. Stay politically involved. Please do not overlook this—it's another extremely important way you can use your free time. Call your representatives, donate to antiracist organizations, post links to charities and other resources, support black and POC-run businesses, and if you're an ally like me, read books and articles to further educate yourself. (Please don't hesitate to reach out if you'd like recommendations for any of the above!) And remember, art does not exist in a vacuum. Theatre has always been a political art form, and don't forget that the shows you write, perform or work on have the potential to be real vehicles of change.

5. Take it one day at a time. It's easy to get overwhelmed by such a crazy lifestyle change, especially as 2020 seems to be spiraling more out of control by the minute. But it's important to take things as they come and look ahead with an open mind. Set concrete goals for yourself to chip away at each day: reading, writing, taking care of friends and family, etc. And there is nothing wrong with taking self-care days, too! Never feel guilty about failing to be productive during a global crisis.

By now, you've probably heard apocalyptic pronouncements that Broadway will never be what it once was, or that live theatre as a medium has been permanently crippled by this. But I hope this advice has given you some perspective. Because it doesn't matter if we can't occupy a traditional "theater" space. Anywhere can be a theater if you define it as one: your living room, your bedroom, the Internet. It's true that nothing can replicate the feeling of witnessing a live production surrounded by real people, that deep sense of community so deeply engrained within our cultural definition of theatre. But if you set your mind to it; if you use what you've learned in rehearsal and imagine a Zoom chat as your scene partner, a virtual audience as a live one; if you make the best of a weird situation and refuse to be put in place by those overblown doomsayers, nothing can stop you from creating your art. And that kind of bravery is exactly what the world needs right now.

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