by Catherine Macallister
Across the world, theaters have made the difficult but necessary decision to close their doors to audiences, cast, and crew during the global pandemic. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to take in one of Nantucket’s theatre productions at the The Dreamland, The Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, or the White Heron Theatre, you have experienced the magic of live theatre as it transports you to new places, new people, and new ideas. While plans for the 2020 summer theatre season has to be altered to follow state rules and safety guidelines, behind- the-scenes work is being done to find new ways to deliver creative theatre experiences to the Nantucket community.
Justin Cerne, Artistic Director of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, is in the midst of reworking 2020 programming and, though much of it is on hold, he is looking forward to putting out “programming that is meaningful,” and can “still touch audience members,” despite difficult times. “We are really proud of the season we programmed, and we worked really hard” says Cerne of the original 2020 Season, but he hopes that some of the TWN season can remain or be moved to the 2021 Season. Having just wrapped up virtual play readings in partnership with the Nantucket Atheneum, Theatre Workshop of Nantucket is headed towards a couple of exciting projects that will provide a platform for actors and audience members to experience theatre during this time of social distancing.
Cerne is hoping to create a virtual theatre experience that is “taking the moment and embracing it for what it is.” There is a clear purpose for this programming Cerne says:“don’t create more noise.” The hope is that meaningful and purposeful theatre will come from this crisis, and that it will reflect the audience, producers, and mission of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket.
There are plans for two different virtual experiences that will engage audiences: a play and a musical-based production. Cerne recently revisited British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, which addresses how we talk about love and receive information. The play is comprised of 57 different scenes and more than 100 actors, and the goal is for theatres across the US to collaborate with The Theatre Workshop to bring each of the scenes to life. “Collaborating is such a rewarding experience,” says Cerne, who recognizes that these two performances will look different than what you may see in a typical theatre setting. The musical-based production will also be a collaboration, this time between Theatre Workshop and the Mac-Hadyn Theatre of Chatham, New York. These two experiences will “provide content for the next couple months,” says Cerne, who is still waiting to see what the rest of the season will look like. “Everyone respects everyone’s creativity,” says Cerne, and this will be an opportunity to “engage with new technology.”
Additionally, the Theatre Workshop will be transitioning away from their live benefit to a virtual, and aptly named tele-thon, “The Show Must Go On.” It will be “an old-fashioned variety show,” as Cerne puts it, and centers around an uplifting message. Details for the event are still in the works but the objective is for “people join us and reflect on time at the Theatre Workshop and what it has meant to them,” says Cerne, adding “I hope we can be together.” It will be a way for audiences, actors, producers, and crew members to “gather” in a safe, and socially distant way, that still allows them to enjoy and appreciate the hard work of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket.
Much like the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, the White Heron Theatre aims to work on “alternative programming that has value and enhances the experience,” says Lynne Bolton, the Artistic Director of the White Heron Theatre, and something that “isn’t a replication,” of their planned 2020 Season. The White Heron is leaning into the virtual space, putting together programming that allows actors and mentors to come together and let their creativity shine. Safety is a priority and at the forefront of the White Heron’s game-plan as they navigate the new normal of their summer season. “We are committed to the education program,” Bolton, who spoke about the comprehensive approach to bolstering their successful Student Company. During this time ”kids are bursting with creativity, and adults are bursting with creativity,” says Bolton, who is optimistic about their current virtual offerings. For the time being, their main stage productions are still being worked on, but they expect to be ready to share more details in June.
The stage at White Heron Theatre is not totally empty. Jen Waldman, a former Broadway actress and founder of the Jen Waldman Studio, is currently running her online classes from the empty stage at White Heron. While she has been offering her typical classes for current professional actors, she has also begun working with students of the White Heron Theatre. It has “offered a connection to the space,” says Bolton, and even though it is being done virtually, “being able to get into a theatre,” has been important for the actors and students.
Waldman has been connecting White Heron students to Broadway actors in “virtual online experience,” and setting up Zoom calls between students and actors from their favorite musicals. It has inspired “so much creativity,” says Bolton, who also emphasized the importance of connecting the younger actors with professionals to see what being a professional actor is like. There are ongoing signups for these Zoom sessions, which is an opportunity for more island children and teens to be involved, while giving them a creative and theatrical outlet.
And this is only the beginning of the virtual offerings that will be available to Nantucket youth. White Heron’s Student Company typically produces two shows during a summer season, Mixtape and a condensed Shakespeare production, but this year they are offering additional spring courses like “Building an Audition Book” and “A Cyber Cabaret” to will allow students of all ages to hone their skills in auditioning and performing. The Cyber Cabaret will focus on the theme“the art of self-expression.”
A new master class for advanced students and college students will emerge as well, offering a deep dive into both Shakespeare and Chekov. As White Heron continues to monitor potential plans for a main stage production, it is clear that there are still plenty of opportunities to grow and engage, especially for island students. While this theatre season may look different than what was planned, Bolton expressed her belief in the power of theatre during this time, saying that it “gives you a chance to think…makes you take a pause,” while emphasizing, “the arts will come back stronger and better.”
While the Dreamland Stage programs for 2020 have not been canceled as of our press date, organizers are waiting to confirm all details about classes, workshops, and performances until they receive guidance from the state. Director of Education Laura Gallagher Byrne is hosting social media based acting and audition classes on Instagram Live @dreamlandstagecompany
Dreamland Stage Company is also hosting live weekly play readings every Tuesday evening at 7pm. The play of the week is announced every Friday on Dreamland Stage Company’s Facebook and Instagram pages. To read, participants simply comment on the post to be assigned a role, first-come, first-assigned. Once the roles are cast, readers meet in a Zoom call to read through the play and discuss it. “Low stakes, no rehearsal, just fun, discussion and connection.”
The experience of live theatre will be missed as we move into the first part of the summer, but we are fortunate to have theatre directors and teachers on Nantucket who are enthusiastic about engaging students can offer perspective to audiences, even if it is from the comfort of your own home.
With their virtual programs free and their summer galas delayed or canceled, all the Nantucket theater programs need your support to continue their great work. If you’d like to help by donating, reach out to them at whiteherontheatre.org, theatrenantucket.org, and dreamlandstagecompany.org.