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Theatre Means Breathing Together

Theatre | October 7th, 2020

by Monika Browne-Ecker

monikabrowne4@gmail.com

Thinking back on February and the beginning of March, I recall conversations I had with my family here and outside of the US about the truthfulness of the news surrounding this new pandemic. Skepticism gave way to concern and real fear as the days went by with news stories from Italy and the death count they reported. COVID-19 became a reality in the middle of March as my colleague and I scrambled to pack our offices as fast and as best as possible to begin work from home.

As an artist administrator, I can easily talk about the tools I use for the administrative and managerial part of my work in theatre. But as an artist, I had to reexamine those tools and quickly make the switch to a completely new arena of performing theatre: the internet.

We now know that live performance is the last to come back to all kinds of theatres in this country. The last few months marked shows on zoom, pre recorded shows being released from the vault of the most popular theatres in the world, and other ways theatre artists tried to maintain their connection to the audience and the art. As an artist in the micropolitan area of Fargo Moorhead, I continued to examine what makes live-ness the sacred part of theatre-making as I logged on to yet another ‘at home’ performance from my laptop. The excitement of hearing the “3…2…1…the stream is live” countdown was intense. But how was it different?

Missing the nearness and the now-ness of a live audience, I remembered that as the live audience watches us, the theatre watches them back. We can’t deny the tactility and participatory nature of theatre by the very nature of air that we share in an auditorium; this sacred, electric air. These thoughts bread in a crisis, also gave me the courage and drive to make more and more theatre available online without involving this air that’s at once a conduit of our shared artistic experience and now a danger to everyone’s health if we don’t use the proper precautions.

I continued to make theatre with my fellow artists at Theatre B in our first season of ‘B At Home’ despite the question that kept rattling around in my head: is it theatre if we don’t breathe the same air? An answer to that question came from a conference I attended in mid-June. It was one of the many conferences and workshops arts organizations put together all over the nation to support each other and to support artists in a time of crisis. One of the presenters said something that continues to resonate with me today: the emblem of Covid theatre is ‘mics on’ and it will continue after the pandemic. It means, we are here and we are ready to listen, respond, and breathe. With theatre done online we may not hear the audience breathe with us, but we trust that they’re there.

With this trust in mind, I continue to seek out opportunities and people who want to make theatre even in these weird, new circumstances. My friends at Theatre B, friends at Concordia College, and individual artists in the FM area, who miss having a conversation with the audience but continue to bend the air into new shapes to bring you theatre in new ways.

[Editor’s note: Monika Browne-Ecker is Operations Manager & Artistic Ensemble at Theatre B.]

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