Walk-Through Theater Performances in Parks

The eruption of the Coronavirus pandemic led to the closing of theaters in the US for the summer. However, producers and theater members decided to plan and stage performances outdoors in parks and fields for small groups of masked and socially distanced audience, reported Michael Paulson of The New York Times.

Of the many theater companies which adapted to promenade theater as a result of the pandemic, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival in Missouri was one. After the cancellation of their annual Shakespeare in the Park productions, they began staging A Late Summer Night’s Stroll in fifteen scenes at different sites in Forest Park. (Read about Shakespeare’s plays being broadcasted over the radio here).

Audience members will walk through scenes inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream where two violinists will play Wedding March by Mendelssohn from a bridge; a dance company will enact a scene between Titania and Oberon, and a burlesque artist will perform with a Great Dane dressed as a donkey, explained Tom Ridgely, the Shakespeare Festival’s producing artistic director. This free production is scheduled to run through 6 September.

In Rhode Island, the WaterFire Providence and Wilbury Theater Group are presenting Decameron, Providence in ten locations on the grounds of a former locomotive factory. According to Wilbury artistic director Josh Short, “times like this is when theater and storytelling is so important” which is why when the Black Lives Matter movement rose to importance, they decided that there was a lot more for them to talk about. At $10 a ticket, patrons can experience the stories via dance, poetry, film, music, and cabaret. Each evening until 22 August, the audience will be divided into ten groups (or “brigades”) with up to fifteen people in each and will be led by an actor playing a character in The Decameron to see five 20-minute scenes.

In New York City, Here Arts Center is offering Cairns by Gelsey Bell. Cairns is a downloadable soundwalk which participants can listen to by themselves as they walk through the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Additionally, Artpark in western New York is offering The Art of Walking which is an interactive hour-long walkthrough of the park on the Niagara Gorge for a small group of twenty-five. The participants are guided by two actors and are followed by a stage manager in a cart with a soundboard.

For Massachusetts based theater troupe, Double Edge Theater, Coronavirus cut their tour short at the very beginning and they headed home to be quarantined. When the group decided that they “can always be creative,” the result was 6 Feet Apart, All Together, said Stacy Klein, the theater’s founding artistic director. The performance was staged entirely outdoors to masked patrons who moved through the scenes in smalls groups while keeping the required physical distance from each other.

The performance presented eight scenes from various mythology-inspired works interlinked with the themes of “flight, loss, and possibility” explained Klein. Each ticket was marked at $42 and only thirty-six people were allowed per performance. When demand increased, the groups were increased to accommodate forty-five people because Klein felt that it was an “important moment for people to have something live”.

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