Virtual Theater Burnout Blues
Virtual Theater Burnout…How do you support theater when you’re tired of supporting theater?
As I write this piece I’m sitting in the lobby of an empty theater in Miami where only one year ago we were in the midst of rehearsals for a world premiere production. Rehearsals were abruptly shut down two months later due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I can still remember the exact feeling in the room when, with over 20 cast members, musicians, production crew members– the managing director walked in before our final preview and told us our opening night performance, which took place the next evening, would also be our last. I think our collective heart sank at that very moment.
Since Covid-19 shut down our performance spaces, artists, musicians, and others, have used Zoom and various other online platforms as a home for all social gatherings as well as a stage for their creative outlets. In the months following the initial closures, social media was flooded with invites to virtual play readings, concerts, and other gatherings. I must have attended more performances virtually within the first 3 months of the shutdown than I would have within a normal year. The arts became increasingly accessible and there was definitely plenty to go around. We were not only trying to stay creative, but we were also, as a community, trying to hold on to any sense of normalcy.
It’s been almost a year since we’ve been living through this massive lifestyle shift and I’m just going to go ahead and say it… I’m tired of virtual theater. I’m exhausted. I want off the “virtual theater train.” But really, I’m just deeply mourning the temporary loss of live theater.
Virtual performances have provided us with easier access to the arts from all around the world, at a time in which we need it most. However, it doesn’t provide us with what the arts does best–connect us as people, on a holistic level. There’s nothing like the feeling of arriving at a theater—or any liver performance venue– for a sold-out show, and feeling the energy of the audience around you, anticipating the moment when you’re in your seat and the theater goes dark– right before the stage lights come on and the curtain rises. And for those of us that have worked onstage or backstage—the sound of a stage managers voice through your headset calling “places” and feeling the adrenaline rush of a live performance as you watch from the wings. A vantagepoint so few ever get to see for themselves.
So, what do we do when we’re “zoomed out”? When you can’t sit through another virtual performance? How do you continue to support your colleagues? How do you do your part to support arts organizations so that when things do get back to normal, they are still standing?
You do just that. Continue to support your fellow artists. Continue to support arts organizations. If you can’t sit through another online performance, share the info on social media. If you can afford to donate to a theater or arts organization, do it. If you can’t afford to donate, fundraise. Grassroots fundraising is easier than ever nowadays with the unlimited access to fundraising and social media platforms. As someone who has worked in the arts for the past 20 years, I can attest that no donation is ever too small. No “share” on social media is ever unappreciated. According to Americans for the Arts, in 2016 an estimated 60% of the revenue reported by Nonprofit Arts Organizations came from earned income (i.e., Ticket sales, merch sales, concessions, venue rentals, etc.) While there was an upward trend in contributions through 2019. The shutdown has without a doubt impacted arts organizations all over the country in ways in which they never thought imaginable. Not only due to the loss of earned income but also due to mandatory cancellations of in-person fundraising events.
I’m a firm believer that everything in life is temporary, everything happens for a reason, and we are in a constant state of transition. I know it might not seem like it now, but with each day that passes we’re one day closer to watching a live performance in a crowded theater. And when that day comes, society will have cultivated a greater appreciation for the arts and those that create it. As for us the artists, the creatives, the musicians, and everyone in between, the comeback is bound to be remarkable.