By Tabatha Renegar
Photos: Jenny Lawrence with Dancing Lemur Photography
Like the rest of us, those involved with local community theater could never have imagined how a pandemic might affect the world of arts and entertainment. Shows canceling left and right, and families hunkered down in their homes with crowded theaters the last thing on their minds.
But one clever mind was busy right from the start thinking about how to continue to delight audiences while also surviving this unexpected season! Jamie Lawson is the Artistic Director of Theatre Alliance in Winston-Salem and one of the busiest human beings alive! From directing to set-design to marketing and promotion, Jamie is an unstoppable, one-person dynamo. Luckily, he made time to talk with me about the way that Theatre Alliance has continued to bring light to these dark days.
How has the pandemic affected live theater in the Triad?
It has put a screeching halt to all indoor theatre. Most all of us had productions in the works ready to perform that we had to cancel or postpone. For Theatre Alliance, it was “Evita,” which we plan to produce once we get back indoors.
How did you and your team come up with the idea for the outdoor shows?
We listened to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the local government and said, “Okay. Here’s what we know. How can we do this safely? We need to have enough room to spread the actors out, the audience out, and to not have confined, recirculating air.” Outside was the only option, given the circumstances of the situation. Fortunately, we had our backyard at W. Northwest Blvd, as well as our new space parking lot at 650 w. Sixth St. as potential performance options.
What has been the biggest challenge to putting on outdoor performances?
Well, there are many, and they are all “biggest.” First and foremost: safety for everyone involved. We take participants’ temperatures before all rehearsals and performances. We wear masks for rehearsals, all of which are outside. We wear face shields for performances. We require our audience members to wear masks. We clean (indoor) restrooms between patrons. We take every possible precaution. Next, weather. Battling the heat and humidity have been no fun for the performers. Our worst enemy is rain, though. Finally, finances. We break even, if anything, doing shows outdoors. Why do them you may ask? Because art is what will get us through this devastating crisis! I want Theatre Alliance to provide entertainment to anyone who wants it, who needs it, at this time. Theatre is good medicine for the soul, and I don’t think there is a one of us who couldn’t use some of that right now!
What lesson has the pandemic taught you that you feel will impact you the most in the future?
For me, it has made me examine what is really to be valued and what is superfluous. My life was a whirlwind prior to the pandemic, and honestly, it never really slowed down much (I was lucky to work and to host shows through most of it, to date), but for the time it did make me pause, and when the reality of separation from others became a method of survival, it became an unyielding time of introspection. Are the things I hold as valuable in this life really the things I should be holding as valuable?
What are you most looking forward to, personally or professionally, after the crisis passes? Personally: seeing people smile again. Genuine smiles, unhindered by masks or by moment-by-moment concerns of well-being. Professionally: a roaring, screaming crowd in a packed house, laughing…and laughing…and laughing…
Don’t miss Theatre Alliances interactive Winter Wonder Wander in December at their new location 650 West 6th Street on December 11-13 and 16-22. For more information, visit theatrealliance.ws.