A Month Later: Theater and the Coronavirus. #Stageworthy News of the Week

It’s been a month since Broadway shut down. Today, April 13th, was the day Broadway was supposed to return, remember? Even the Broadway League realized that was unrealistic, on April 8th extending the shutdown to June 7 – to which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo replied: Not so fast. “I wouldn’t use what Broadway thinks as a barometer of anything, unless they’re in the public health business.” (Details in my Broadway and the Coronavirus: Updated Questions and Answers)

Everything has changed, including the annual New York theater awards, which usually take place from April to June. Some are going ahead though online, some have changed the nature of their ceremonies, some have postponed indefinitely, some are uncertain what they’re going to do.

In the meantime, the daily drumbeat of COVID-19 statistics in New York City  has grown too shocking for many to take in. Theater lovers have been seeking distraction by “attending” the suddenly abundant online offerings (my updated Where To Get Your Theater Fix Online).  We’ve also been contemplating the past and the future of theater.

In a piece I wrote his past week for HowlRound, I talk about a pandemic theater aesthetic, comparing it to the art that emerged from previous times of terror:

“It may be too grand—or at least premature—to proclaim a new theatre aesthetic for the 2020 pandemic. But just like the AIDS and 9/11 crises were accompanied by clear visual aesthetics, which came out of the need and urgency of those posters and missing notices, so too I sense a theatrical aesthetic emerging from the need and urgency that confronts us because of the pandemic.”

It’s an at-home aesthetic that’s happening on television too — witness the first-ever Saturday Night Live at Home over the weekend.

There has been much contemplation of what the pandemic will mean to the future of theater. The headlines make it look grim, with just a touch of hope:

The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Cost American Arts Organizations a Collective $4.5 Billion So Far, a New Study Claims

Art In The Time Of Coronavirus: NYC’s Small Arts Organizations Fighting For Survival

Closed Theaters Are Nothing New. The Good News Is, They Reopen.

How Can Broadway Recover From This Pandemic?

But I’ve been spending time on the past, too, searching through YouTube and the theater collection of the New York Public Library to produce my daily Alphabet of Broadway Stars. I’m up to E.

A is for Audra McDonald

B is for Bernadette Peters

C is for Chita Rivera

D is for Darren Criss

E is for Elaine Stritch

The Week in Online Theater Reviews

Offbeat New Audio Theater: “Prime” and “Play in Your Bathtub”

Celia Bolger-Keenan and Jesse Ferguson as wife and husband in an emotional moment during the online reading of Terrence McNally’s “Lips Together, Teeth Apart”

Lips together, Teeth Apart

In the Washington Post, Peter Marks knocks online theater, in In the midst of the virus, theater migrates to the web. The results are spotty.

“As margarine is to butter, theater online comes across as an artificial substitute, with less flavor. It’s not the way these productions were meant to be seen and heard and felt.”

Playwright Jeremy O. Harris responds Twitter.

I respond at length in the comments section, beginning:
This article misses how much is going on, how many choices there are, and how exciting some of it is. There’s just too much on offer now, and too much variety, to generalize so dismissively.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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