Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Community theater struggles under new pandemic reality

The coronavirus pandemic has caused community there to come to a standstill with no end in sight.(WYDaily/Williamsburg Players Facebook)
The coronavirus pandemic has caused community there to come to a standstill with no end in sight.(WYDaily/Williamsburg Players Facebook)

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted people and businesses in various ways.

Take for instance local theater production. It basically has come to a screeching halt.

Williamsburg Players, a community theater organization, was in the middle of producing their spring show March.

Then the coronavirus showed up, and the curtains fell.

Members of the organization are still struggling to find ways to adapt.

“The bottom line for the theater world really is that until there is a vaccine, we’re looking at strange conditions for people coming into the theater and we have to weigh that against the experience,” said Neil Hollands, president of the Williamsburg Players.

Williamsburg Players have had virtual meetings since closing its doors in March but the ability to create virtual performances is very limited.

For one, certain copyright laws on modern plays prohibit online recordings of performances but also because the organization isn’t equipped with the video technology to record any performances.

Hollands said some of the actors have worked with the Williamsburg Regional Library to perform excerpts from Shakespeare plays, but the challenges surrounding a live stream of a full play are just too difficult.

It would be difficult to have actors perform a play together in a space while keeping them socially distant from each other. But if actors performed a play through a medium such as video conferencing, then the lag time on the videos would create a severe impact to the quality of their performance.

“It’s challenging for us because a lot of what we love about what we do is working in front of a live audience,” Hollands said. “That’s what makes us different and it’s where a lot of our power comes from.”

But even as the state starts to reopen and entertainment venues gradually become available again, Hollands said the restrictions make theater-going nearly impossible. 

The Williamsburg Players productions are performed at the James-York Playhouse where there are only 300 seats. If a production was performed and the audience used proper social distancing, that would mean only about 60 to 70 guests could attend. Even with those numbers, there would still be issues with people waiting in the lobby or using common restrooms. 

“People sitting together in an audience and getting that collective feeling of what they’re missing, that’s something we miss if we move into an audience where we are distant from people,” he said.

Another issue is that a large part of the organization’s audience are typically elderly, which leaves them vulnerable to the virus.

The Williamsburg Players also faces financial uncertainty.

Hollands said the organization is unique because it owns the space in which productions are performed. While this has been useful in the past, it also brings a unique challenge recently because if the organization can’t pay its mortgage then it will lose its performance spot.

There was some relief on mortgage payments for the first three months of the pandemic and Hollands said the organization has enough funds saved to support itself in the short term. But without the revenue from productions, the savings can only last but so long.

Hollands said he likes to think of the infamous playwright, William Shakespeare, who wrote and performed hundreds of plays despite public health outbreaks disputing performing arts.

“He somehow managed to put together the most amazing output of theatrical material the world has ever seen in that strange time so I try to draw inspiration from that,” he said.

There isn’t a definite plan for how the Williamsburg Players will continue. The organization has been trying to brainstorm ideas, such as performances in the parking lot, but so far nothing has been viable.

Hollands said the organization will one day thrive again because of the support of the community.

“The people in Williamsburg love their arts,” he said. “So we just have to be patient, but we will rise again.”

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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