Audrey Zielenbach is the Artistic Content Curator at Gulfshore Playhouse.
Theatre returns, it always does. It returns to places where it has already been before and to times in which it has already appeared. And while it does so, it sends us too, the spectators, to those places and times, performance after performance. Theatre also rewrites. It constantly does. It rewrites history, relationships, stories and rules. It refashions beliefs, recycles old and used objects and reassembles them into new embodied experiences. Above all, theatre repeats, and incessantly so. It repeats itself and the act of returning and rewriting, as though it were struck by an obsessive compulsion to reiterate and re-enact, again and again, the vestiges of its past. In so doing, it adapts itself to present contingencies and situations, like an animal species struggling to survive through evolution. Theatre, however, does not reshape its coordinates simply to remain alive or to remain itself through time, but also to change the world around it. Theatre, one could say, never stops adapting its features to the world and the world to its features.
Something I think about often is theatre’s ability to adapt and evolve to any given scenario, and the idea that through all of those adaptations and evolutions, theatre is always recognizably theatre. I’ve been especially thinking about it these past few weeks as our industry faces a truly unprecedented event that has sent us into survival mode. While it remains unclear what the long-term effects will be on our industry, this has truly shown how theatre as an artform can adapt and evolve.
The primary purpose of theatre is to serve an audience. Theatre artists utilize their skills, whether it be carpentry, electrics, finances, painting, sewing, writing, designing, performing, or anything else, to create something that will hopefully enhance the life of the people watching. We do this with the understanding that what we create is ephemeral. Imagine Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa with the knowledge that it will hang in a museum for six weeks and then be burned. Theatre is at its core a constant cycle of creation and destruction. Destruction can be difficult, painful, and sad, but what emerges from it is, of course, creation.
So, when you look at it that way, we are at a junction in that cycle. For the health and safety of everyone, performing arts organizations worldwide have shuttered to a close. Theatre lost its audience; we experienced the destruction phase of the cycle, which has called us to do what we do best: create.
It has been amazing to see the ways artists and organizations have adapted to these new challenges. We want to ensure that our audiences remain safe but do not miss out on the joy theatre brings to our lives. It was from this that Gulfshore Playhouse’s own specific brand of digital offering, Artful Distancing, was born. When we accepted the reality of the situation, we immediately got to work creating something we hoped would be artful and engaging. Once we figured out the amorphous shape of what was executable with our limitations and resources, Jeff Binder, our Associate Artistic Director, produced a list of dozens of potential forums, performances, classes, and more that we could offer digitally. We did research on various platforms and reached out to friends and colleagues, and within the course of a few days, we had an entire program that hadn’t even existed as an idea a week prior.
As we look ahead, not fully knowing what the world will look like a week from now, let alone a month or more, we will continue to adapt and evolve. As Margherita Laera put it, “Theatre returns, it always does.”
Be sure to check out our upcoming Artful Distancing programs by clicking here!