Pros and Cons of Theatre Freedom After COVID-19

A particular form of performance taught at Pacific University is known as Applied Theatre, a fairly recent term in the performing arts world varying from place to place. Applied theatre is an effective method of staging performances at informal settings, such as schools, community centers, or parks, while at the same time reaching out to audiences in ways that may be unsuitable in a traditional theatre. 

During the midst of COVID-19, most classes were able to transition to online lectures with minimal problems, but the Performing Arts departments arguably got hit the hardest. Examples include many rehearsal spaces shutting down for safety reasons, and how streaming performances live doesn’t leave the same lasting impact as watching a performance in the same space as its performers. Despite these setbacks, it’s easy to see how the theatre is eager to perform again after the long quarantine. With COVID restrictions recently lifted at Pacific University, Forest Grove’s Creative Arts majors and minors now have the freedom to pursue performing arts in spaces that were previously declared off-limits due to health concerns. With the relaxation in rules regarding social distancing, many theatre troupes and other performing arts industries are taking advantage of the new freedom to reach out to the public through performances, both in and out of traditional theatre venues.

From a personal standpoint, the fact that theatre troupes in the States are eager to perform again raises both happiness and concern within me. On one hand, having just gotten through a year-long sequester, it can be argued that now is a prime time for performers to start reaching out to the general public once again, as their time spent in isolation is likely to have gotten their creative juices flowing, with new perspective on topics that might never have appeared without the pandemic’s appearance. 

On the other hand, regardless of where a performance is staged, the fact remains that many citizens of the United States refuse COVID vaccinations. In addition, some are fighting the laws mandating masks, which could put many audience members at risk, and especially the performers-despite claims that the actors would be at a distance far enough away, nothing is certain. It has been proposed for performers to wear masks during their performances, but personally, I believe that it is beneficial only during rehearsals because when performing with masks on, an actor would have to cover the bottom half of their face. In doing so, performers severely limit their ability to convey emotions to their audiences, as well as muffle their voices. 

At the end of the day, as a theatre student myself, I am very happy to see the theatre-making a comeback. However, I also believe that even if the rules have relaxed slightly, we should still take into consideration the safety of both performers and the audience. In fact, this dilemma of how to make performing safe could be a great challenge for artists alike to brainstorm new methods together. — Max Pennington


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