The Covid-19 pandemic is challenging Bay Area theater companies in unprecedented ways. If creativity and fluidity are defining features of the art form, the present moment demands craftspeople employ ultimate efforts to reach and maintain their hard-earned audiences—or in some cases, to stay afloat.
California Shakespeare Theater (Cal Shakes) and Berkeley Repertory Company represent two leading local organizations whose plans set an ambitious pace and model the theater community’s pioneering spirit, resourcefulness, resilience, and hope.
CAL Shakes artistic director Eric Ting on March 27 announced the cancellation of the outdoor theater group’s entire 2020 summer season, citing concerns and financial hardship due to Covid-19. The 46th season was to have started with Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Indeed, rehearsals had begun for the May 30th opening. With public health established as the top priority, Ting in a press release said halting rehearsal and production activities mid-stride was “the best course of action.”
Facing the loss of more than $1.2 million and furloughing 65 percent of full-time employees, the company postponed one New Classics Initiative commission to the 2021 season. All efforts turned to fundraising and developing platforms for online programs during an indefinite period of social distancing.
A few weeks later, on April 10, the launch of CAL Shakes Online was announced. The digital platform stretches across this season impacted by the coronavirus and beyond; forming a bridge to summer 2021. “We may have cancelled our season, but we haven’t cancelled our art,” Ting said in announcing program features.
Highlights include Run the Canon, a 37-week video series of all of Shakespeare’s works. Hosted by the dynamic Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly—her pre-show Grove talks delivered amid the towering eucalyptus trees at the Bruns Amphitheater are immensely popular—it’s best to enact tradition: grab a bottle of wine or a meal, step into the backyard, enjoy Kelly’s stay-home insights into classic works. Rounding out the offerings, #ShelterHereabouts presents local Bay Area actors performing “micro-commissioned” classical monologues; These Thre3 Seconds present short videos submitted by the public that capture personal shelter in place moments.
At Berkeley Rep, canceled performances as of March 12 included Happy Days, School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, and (midway through its run) Culture Clash (Still) In America. In the recover-what-we-can phase immediately following the announcement, Managing director Susie Medak forecast initiatives allowing current and future ticket holders extensive access to recorded performances from the theater’s library and separately, School of Theatre online opportunities with modified classes for adults, teens, and youth.
Patrons and supporters on March 17 learned that a $35 ticket buys a password-protected link and access to high definition broadcasts of over 300 Berkeley Rep titles of classical and contemporary productions. Joining a nationwide theater project, Play at Home, Berkeley Rep on April 17 granted micro-commission to three Bay Area writers; Julia Cho (Aubergine), Min Kahng (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), and Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (Fall Springs). Each original 10-minute play created is made available to download for free to the public via the website (playathome.org). People are encouraged to perform the plays in their home and submit short video clips showing their enjoyment of the initiative for the greater good of all.
To learn more, visit these websites: