Generally speaking, virtual theatre is not ideal for artists that crave physical togetherness. However, at this moment, our world is asking us to find another way to connect. Part of traditional theatre’s beauty is its intense physical intimacy. Both the actors and the audience are invited into a shared space.
Schools are not the only theatrical spaces that have closed down; Broadway has closed for the rest of 2020. Mirvish Productions in Canada has lost 80% of income due to the pandemic and in order to remedy the immense financial burden reopening their doors would pose, they would need 70% of the theaters full. Seeing as the virus is still operating in full force, financially speaking, it would not be wise to open theatre up now anyway. Not to mention the health risk.
Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic, the coronavirus is more contagious than the flu, can spread amongst all age groups within six feet of each other and sometimes undetected, and is life-threatening. The enormity of the current pandemic is not lost on most of us, and while it is manageable if we follow guidelines, practicing traditional theatre would be a risk at the moment. Teaching students theatre online, especially if they do not yet have a foundational understanding of the art form, is challenging.
However, educator Bryan C. Parker and journalist for Austin Monthly, argues in favor of virtual productions and especially of online teaching. He explains that the digital world is our best bet by a long shot right now, for the very reason that the counter argument asserts. The conversation has revolved around ensuring that students get the most out of their education. However, Parker cites Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to point out that students can only grow if they are healthy. The virus is new to us, and going back to in-person school is just postponing the inevitable cancellation and migration to an online platform, and it is also flirting with danger. We must make some very difficult sacrifices based on the circumstances and adapt to a safer form. This, explains Parker, is actually the most daring and most exciting solution. We are about to embark on an adventure into new territory, and it’s all in the name of protecting each other. Consistency and structure, Parker continues, is quite possible online and impossible in person.
Aside from prioritizing health, this might actually provide some extra benefits for students. The University of Southern California’s newspaper the Daily Trojan published an article acknowledging the hardship of virtual school, but also exploring the newfound accessibility. With less extracurricular activities available, students do have a little more time on their hands; that is to say, very little, since we are all dealing with a troubling moment in our lives. Students have been taking it upon themselves to write and produce their own work together They do not have to worry about booking a space or physically hosting an event. Rather, the digital world has given them the chance to work on projects they love and on their own terms.