A wide ranging yr: Pittsburgh theater corporations are contemplating the anniversary of the closure
The The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. In the days following that announcement, universities, businesses, and cities around the world began shutting down their art scenes.
There are many theater companies and venues in Pittsburgh, including Pittsburgh Public Theater, Harris Theater, City Theatre and Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the parks, that had to stop production when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic for the first time and Governor Tom Wolf ordered a nationwide shutdown. This shutdown forced companies to stop their public shows and find new ways to bring theater to their audiences.
Lou Castelli, executive director of the Pittsburgh Public Theater, said when the company heard the news of the pandemic, it had decided to close in March before it opened.
“It was Thursday March 12th 2020 and we should have our official opening night on Friday March 13th,” said Castelli. “And Marya [Sea Kaminski, artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater] and I went to the greenroom to speak to the company immediately after the performance that evening and let them know that production must close that night before it officially opens. “
By doing Weeks before the pandemic declarationIt was slowly becoming clearer that COVID-19 would affect the United States, but Castelli said he felt that many at the time did not foresee the magnitude of the effects of COVID-19.
“Everyone was a little stunned, even though we knew the pandemic was starting to have an impact beyond what anyone had thought the week before,” Castelli said. “Things escalated very quickly and we have teamed up with every other performing arts organization in town and across the country to do the right thing that closed our doors for personal appearances.”
The shutdown meant theater companies couldn’t produce shows and had to take employees off or lower their salaries until more money could be secured, explained Joel Ambrose, director of ticketing and customer care for the City Theater Company.
“By the end of March, we also had 90% of our employees on leave,” said Ambrose. “There were only seven of us working full time, salary positions where we’d paid less every three or four weeks. We were able to secure a PPP loan to bring most of our employees back. “
Although the doors to the theater were closed, Ambrose said via digital media, the company brought several shows across the country that were in the middle of production when the closure began.
“We were able to film our production of “Cry It Out” by Molly Smith Metzler That was on our stage and we were able to spread it as a video performance, ”said Ambrose. “That was already in the rehearsal for the next show, that was “PerkUp PerKup” by Isaac GomezWe put the cast together and recorded a radio play of it, ”said Ambrose.
Aside from digital releases of shows that were already in production, the Pittsburgh Public Theater began Classic N’at, a new series that reinterprets classic works by local playwrights for audiences to see online.
“There was [Kaminski] the opportunity to hire local artists and to employ and work local artists during the pandemic, on both the writing side and the directing and performing side, ”Castello said. “It’s a revamped season of new works based on classic pieces with a Pittsburgh flair.”
Although the shutdown prevented personal productions, Kaminski discussed how digital media offerings have allowed theater companies to employ more artists and reach a larger audience than has been possible in regular season in the past.
“Digital programming, as challenging as it is, offers many possibilities. We were actually able to continue programming and hire more artists than usual, ”said Kaminski. “We have hired nearly 250 artists since last March, which is five times the number of actors we hire in a normal season. And continued to reach the audience. “
As the vaccine rollout in Pittsburgh continues, the possibility of relaxed restrictions and larger gatherings is approaching. While Kaminski isn’t sure when in-person shows might return, she believes the return won’t mean the end of digital theatrical content, as it allows the company to bring theater to isolated groups.
“There were people who were isolated from gathering in the theater long before the COVID-19 hit because of disabilities, geographic features and transportation barriers,” Kaminski said. “I have high hopes for other isolated communities that digital is actually an incredible portal to connect with and connect to live art and storytelling.”
During the shutdown, companies considered how the theater could be made accessible to the audience from the comfort of their homes. But Ambrose said while he believes digital is a solution, it’s not a substitute for the personal experience these companies want to bring back.
“There is still something that is so unique about being in a venue and seeing live theater. It is the impermanence of everything that this is happening right now, this time. And that can’t be replaced on video, ”said Ambrose.