by Charisse Baxter, dramaturg
For Oscar Wilde’s Victorians, ‘social distancing’ was a very different idea from the one we’re dealing with today. It wasn’t physical – theaters and other entertainment venues were packed, people lived on top of each other in tenements, boarding houses, and even servants’ quarters – but it was (as with us) very much a feature of how they saw the world. Their view was that, while the social classes might rely on one another, they should only interact as little as possible, and should never mingle. There was an entire subset of people known as “social climbers”: merchants and businessmen with lots of money, gentry and lesser aristocracy without so much money but with looks and charisma, and innovators and scholars without titles who knew they needed influence in order to make progress. The so-called “upper class” looked down on everybody, most maintained their status in the upper-, middle-, or lower class, and a few tried to bridge the gaps.
Today, well… wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your (actual) distance – no matter how much money or expertise someone you meet might have!
Also today, as in the 1890’s, the show does – and will – go on. Theatre has always been a showcase of creativity and adaptation, and the pandemic swerve includes live-streaming productions where actors have largely rehearsed in isolation. Some groups have, like sports teams, created a ‘bubble’ for the cast and crew to live and work in; most have stretched Zoom to its fullest capacity. (What a time to be a tech communications company, eh?) Others have branched out and explored what could be done with CGI and gaming platforms. Here at BYU, we have put some very talented designers and programmers to work using Zoom, YouTube, and Discord and built a show while all involved have stayed safely at home.
Actors have created work and performance spaces in their family homes, apartments, and dorm rooms; they’ve gotten creative with lighting and levels and costuming while learning how to do stage makeup from specially-designed online tutorials. They’ve figured out how to mix film acting with stage sensibilities, and how to be funny, moving, and present in a scene while actually talking to a pinned-up picture, a stuffed animal, or kitchen utensil. They’ve handled their own set design as well, setting up green (and blue) screens and coming to play through a back-lit window. What you’ll see in the online performance is definitely bigger on the inside – and we’re thrilled to have you join in as audiences adapt to new ways of attending the theatre, and bridging the social distance, along with us.