Special Reports

How Are You Surviving Social Distancing? Our Readers Respond

TheaterMania’s readers share their stories and ideas for weathering the COVID-19 outbreak.

Usually the bustling center of Broadway, 45th Street is looked like a ghost town this week.
Usually the bustling center of Broadway, 45th Street is looked like a ghost town this week.
(© Tricia Baron)
This is my third day working from home, and I'm still getting used to the idea that I have nowhere to go for the next month. As a critic, I usually attend the theater every night. March and April are typically my busiest time of the year, as productions scramble to open before the cutoff dates of the various theater awards in New York City. Of course, all of that will have to be postponed this year in the wake of a citywide shut down that may see the theaters closed well into April, if not longer.

So it's easy for me to feel a bit useless during the COVID-19 crisis. But I've been temporarily distracted from my feelings of redundancy by the heartwarming messages we have received in response to Rosemary Maggiore's letter to our readers. It is clear that TheaterManiacs the world round are not only surviving this period of isolation, but they are using it to deepen their commitment to the theater. Some are even creating their own!

Elaine Pfeil of Milton, Pennsylvania, has used this opportunity to start a "micro theater company" for short plays with limited blocking in tiny venues. This week, she's arranging her first conference-call rehearsals.

Singer-songwriter Jake Ellsworth of Newburgh, Indiana, has already written six original songs for his forthcoming album. "I saw a tweet the other day about Shakespeare writing King Lear during a plague," he shares, "and since I'm practicing social distancing and never leaving my house anyway, I've had a lot of time to write lyrics, music, and record."

Like a lot of homebound performers, Joseph Kasper of Sherman, Texas, is still singing, and occasionally uploading the results to Instagram. "I decided that instead of being sad during the isolation I wanted to fight and show why theater is not dying but is more alive than ever," he told us. You can hear Joseph sing the 11 o'clock number from Waitress below:

Of course, plenty of our readers are content to limit their performances to an audience of one. Jill Cruz is rocking out in Jersey City with her own DIY version of karaoke, which involves bringing up lyrics on YouTube and singing her heart out. "My top choice is 'Light My Candle' from Rent," she tells us, adding, "No need for a Roger to my Mimi though since I sing both parts anyway."

None of these home performances can quite compensate for the massacre of live theatrical events that occurred this past week. I've heard about canceled performances of Matilda and Hairspray from high school thespians who have already poured countless hours into preparations.

Emily Ilott of Vancouver was the choreographer of her high school's now-canceled production of The Little Mermaid. While Ilott understands and supports the rationale for this cancellation, she foresees unhappy consequences: "Not only has our school spent so much money on this production, but now we have no way to make it back. Meaning, my schools theatre program might be cut entirely."

Salt Lake City resident Abby Hansen was all set to star in her high school production of Into the Woods, but it has been postponed, a word that offers some hope that the senior will be able to strut the boards before her graduation. She takes heart from the message of "No One Is Alone" in that musical: "Hard to see the light now, just don't let it go. / Things will come out right now, we can make it so."

Several of our readers are using this time as an opportunity for self-improvement. Erin Hayes of Los Angeles is teaching herself how to play the piano and expanding her theatrical knowledge with BroadwayHD, the streaming service that allows you to watch recording of Broadway shows from the comfort of your living room (check back this week for the first of TheaterMania's new series of reviews of BroadwayHD shows).

Our readers are also using this time to acquaint themselves with cast recordings of musicals they don't already know, which is an easy thing to do in the age of Apple Music and Spotify.

Catherine Brooks of Racine, Wisconsin, plans to reread all of her old scripts from the shows she has appeared in, and try to remember her blocking. She offers this handy health tip: "You can't be touching your face if you're holding a book!"

In this sedentary period, it's important to stay active so as not to devolve into a gelatinous blob (which is how I feel most days at around 5pm). Evan Ginzburg of Forest Hills, Queens, has planned a strenuous regimen: "I practice Tai Chi, Qi Gong, meditate, exercise at home and am watching the 100 greatest movies of all time." Clearly, Evan is prepared for the long haul.

And for those of us not quite there yet, we can find inspiration in the artists who came before us, and lived through much worse ordeals. Theater professor Rob Neukirch of Floyd, Virginia asks his students to bring in a quote about art every Thursday (an activity that will go online this week). He leaves us all with a doozy from Samuel Beckett's novel The Unnamable, which perfectly sums up humanity's inevitable response to the COVID-19 crisis: "I can't go on. I'll go on."