Blogging with Brendan
Is 2020 over yet? No? Because it feels like a decade has passed since unrest and pandemic entered our lives and changed them enormously. We plan for, hope for, and anticipate an impending “new normal,” only to find that the situation remains fluid– restrictions ebb and flow as we desperately try to keep our heads above water. 2020 has become the year to collaborate as a community, to find solutions to impossible problems, to stay creative, agile and adaptive.
Luckily, all of this is the theatre’s specialty. It’s what we do every day.
True to form, we’ve cranked our collective creative problem-solving skills into overdrive during this crisis. We started by asking ourselves “how can theatre survive in the age of COVID-19?” But the question soon became: “how can theatre help us THRIVE in the age of COVID-19?” As a theatre educator, my goal has always been to combat the stagnation of our minds and our artistic impulses. Like any muscle, creativity can wither without attention. And I think we can all agree that, these days, everyone has been called upon to “get creative.” Whether that means inventing some new game your kids can play (so you can get maybe 10 minutes to yourself), creating a little “Zoom corner” in your home for those inescapable virtual meetings, or finding a new hobby or side hustle to stay occupied– creativity has been our collective saving grace. And though we don’t necessarily “teach” creativity here at the theatre, we do teach our students how to unlock it, how to cultivate it and how to exercise it wherever they may be.
One case in point is our recent “Virtual Playwrights Festival,” which was the culmination of a four-week class (conducted via Zoom) on playwriting. We didn’t originally plan on sharing our students’ plays, least of all in a full-blown festival format. The virtual playwriting class was merely an opportunity to experiment with something new– an online theatre class– and keep our community engaged. But as plans for the class moved forward, we began to recognize the potential for even broader engagement; this was an opportunity to celebrate the work of local, first-time playwrights, while also providing local actors something to sink their teeth into. What’s more, a “virtual festival” can engage our audience at large with new, exciting, Quincy-made artistic work– all from the comfort of their own homes. Necessity, in this case, was the mother of invention; this program was transformed into something radical, something far-reaching, and something that tapped directly into the theatre’s strength in community-building. It also taught us valuable lessons about the tools of the new “virtual stage”: both their limitations and their vast potential.
At the time of writing, we are halfway through our 2020 Summer Classes, for which the development process was its own story of creativity and adaptation. Strangely, as difficult as it was to work within the state’s guidelines (and more difficult still to cancel this year’s beloved Boot Camp and Basic Training), I’m grateful for how the pandemic pushed me to innovate my curriculum. I’m grateful for how it pushed us, as an institution, to take our already admirable health and safety protocols to another level. Some classes this summer have included mandatory masking, others were designed to be mostly taught outdoors in Quincy’s beautiful public spaces. Still others are being conducted entirely online. We are– dare I say– becoming experts at adapting to the unexpected. But, like I said, it’s what theatres do.
And so we continue to build momentum, having now developed a spate of programming for the rest of 2020 that is not only responsive to the restrictions of our current moment, but to its content, too. In a way, COVID-19 has not weakened us as a theatre– instead, it has challenged us to become more vital and timely than ever. The good news is: we’re always up for a challenge, and with the support of our incredible community of students, volunteers and audience members, we’ll rise to the occasion again and again.