It’s hard to believe it was only about eight weeks ago that I saw my last live theater performance. It was “The SpongeBob Musical” at the Buell Theatre on March 10 – just about the time all this coronavirus shit came down hard.
Even on that night, the handwriting was on the wall. The crowd was definitely a bit thin for a show like SpongeBob, and some of us no doubt had the feeling that being there was perhaps not the best idea.
Just a few days later, the show – along with most others in the state – was put on ice. Incredibly, by March 15, there was no live theater left in Colorado.
All those box offices gone silent, rehearsals put on hold, distraught actors, directors and other theater folks taking to Facebook to collectively mourn all this loss. And, unlike other tragedies that can be soothed with gatherings, vigils, fundraisers and the like, this one would have to be dealt with almost entirely online.
From the start of all this, we’ve all been sorta thinking “end of April/early May” as the time when things might start returning to normal. It now appears that was overly optimistic. One by one, theater festivals around Colorado and the country announced that there was just no way they could put together a repertory season for this summer, given everything that was happening.
Some simply stated that the 2020 season is postponed to 2021, while others are trying some alternative programming. The Lake Dillon Theatre Company, for one, recently announced a lineup of virtual and digital programming that includes new play readings, a virtual concert series, a podcast and more.
Other theater operators keep their eyes glued to the news and hang on Gov. Jared Polis’ every word about when things can start reopening. His latest hint that April 27 might see some loosening of restrictions comes with a lot of caveats about what that will look like. Nope, we won’t be suddenly pouring into the parks, breweries, restaurants, concert halls and theaters as we did in the good ol’ days.
In fact, no one really knows yet what things are going to look like. A recent story in Rolling Stone tackled the question of when live music can be expected to return and found that major festivals and large-scale concerts are unlikely to proceed in 2020.
So if the Coachellas and Bonnaroos of the world are off the table, what does that mean for a smaller show at, say, Denver’s Gothic Theatre or Summit Music Hall? The Gothic, for one, doesn’t have anything on the calendar until a rescheduled July 23 show with Of Montreal. Seems like a decent amount of time with a reasonable expectation of proceeding. But will it?
Summit has some shows on the calendar starting in late May – just a month from now. I’m guessing the mosh pit may be a thing of the past, and maybe general admission will look more like roped-off areas based on your latest nasal probe. Who knows?
For our local theaters, I expect we’ll start to see some announcements in the next few weeks as April turns to May. There are no guidelines in place yet, or proclamations about how it’ll be half-houses until fall or anything like that.
But can those be far behind? I miss theater like crazy, but I’m not ready to jam my butt into an auditorium full of potential COVID carriers anytime soon. All the announcements about frequent cleanings and available hand sanitizer in the world won’t allay most people’s fears that this thing is still out there, waiting to pounce.
American Theatre Magazine recently published the results of a survey done in the D.C. area about how people feel about returning to theater. The survey found that, while health risks are a big concern, an economy in free-fall is another reason people think they may not be buying luxuries like theater tickets anytime soon.
So there’s that.
The best-case scenario may be that any somewhat normal amount of theater activity likely won’t return until fall, and it may be well into 2021 before theater as we knew it might be back.
Of course, the arrival of a vaccine or a robust, nationwide testing program that would let people know if they’re immune would go a long way toward reassuring people that gatherings can begin again. It’s doubtful we’ll have a vaccine before early 2021 at best, and as for an organized nationwide testing program from this administration? Don’t hold your breath.
There’s a new reality around the corner, and it’s going to be markedly different from the one we knew just two months ago. So many parts of human society revolve around cramming people in – whether it’s getting on an airplane or a subway, going to a concert or a play, attending a sporting event or enjoying a street festival.
Some of us may say we hate crowds, but as a species, we kinda love ‘em. Even having some asshole behind you at a concert spilling beer down your neck offers a kind of wild-card experience that you just won’t get on the couch watching Netflix.
And it’s sorta fun to bitch about the crazy lady behind you during that Neil Simon play who kept unwrapping noisy candies and whispering to her friend about the time she saw this one on Broadway.
Despite all the gloom, there’s one thing I’m pretty certain of: artists will continue making art and showing it in some form. Players will play, athletes will compete, beer and food festivals will return in some form or another.
The question, of course, is when? WHEN!?!
It may be some time yet before we’re being handed a Playbill and headed toward our seat. In the meantime, do what you can to support your local theater in need (and they are all in need).
And let’s continue to do what we can to flatten that ol’ curve.
Alex Miller is editor and publisher of OnStage Colorado. He lives in Highlands Ranch.