For the one in four Americans who have been told to stay at home during this COVID period, it might be hard to put down the news and pick up the pen. Fortunately, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel has some encouraging words: “Everyone, and I mean everyone, is a storyteller and a writer.”
While practicing social isolation, theater artists and organizations have been encouraging creatives of all stripes to follow their artistic impulses—and take advantage of any extra downtime—throughout this unprecedented period.
Vogel is the acclaimed playwright, theater educator, and author of How I Learned to Drive, one of the umpteen Broadway shows that’s been forced to close down amidst the coronavirus. Nonetheless, she took to the internet to initiate one of her famous “Bake-Offs,” where—instead of cooking ingredients—she prescribes elements to use in a play to jumpstart impulses and stave off procrastination.
Encouraging writers to gather friends (virtually, of course) and individually craft a piece in 48 hours, Vogel’s timely ingredients for this Bake-Off range from a fishmonger in a market place in Wuhong and a couple running a cafe in Tehran to a discarded face mask and cotton swabs.
“Bake-offs always inspire community; the very fact that you are writing at the same time as ten peers, that you will discover how all the minds in your group invent different worlds from the same ingredients, hopefully encourages a risk-taking because there is no time to worry about rewrites,” she told Observer. “One has to think of theatre as a great game of poker and be less precious about words.”
If writing is not for you, perhaps get up and dance? Using the video conference app Zoom to connect professional and amateur movers, Social DisDance Party features “dance nights together, apart” as described in its Instagram bio. Updates, choreography clips, and amusing dance photos frequently pop up on this new Instagram profile set up by The Dance Cartel and New York-based creatives and choreographers Jenny Gersten, Sunny Hit, Sam Pinkleton, and Ani Taj.
Pinkleton, the Tony Award-nominated choreographer of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, said, “Kids, grandparents, and whole families come together, with lots of living room solo-ing. It unexpectedly offered a kind of intergenerational togetherness that you rarely find even on a ‘real’ dance floor.”
“It’s an evolving experiment to see if we can have real social dancing without being in the same literal space, and somehow our little experiment ended up on four continents [during its first week],” said Taj. Hand-washing dances, naturally, have been a staple.
“We all need to move, so we’ll be doing the DisDances three times a week for the next while,” Taj added. “I hope that connective energy and this (at times painful) new awareness of how interdependent we are ultimately makes us stronger, and that we can keep encouraging that into the future.”
The theater magazine Playbill has also been encouraging fans to come together during this time. “For so many, the love of theater extends beyond the stage, and while the coronavirus may have temporarily shut down Broadway, the theater community is still brimming with talent and passion, from creators to patrons alike,” said Marc J. Franklin, Playbill’s principal photographer/assistant photo editor.
As such, Playbill invited Broadway fans to submit artwork depicting scenes and characters from beloved shows. “We wanted to provide a platform for theatre-loving artists to continue to engage with their fondness for the Great White Way, channel their passion, and share their creations with a like-minded community,” Franklin said. The impressive results depict a variety of styles and musicals, including Anastasia, Company, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen.
And while each of these organizations aims to support creatives at home, they are also looking out for larger communities.
“With each DisDance, we’re spotlighting a different cause or organization that needs support, whether it be for freelancers/artists who are fully without work for the next several months or domestic workers who need paid sick leave in this time,” Taj said. “The parties are free, but anyone who is in a position to help can make a donation—it’s also a low-impact way to give love to DJs right now, who, like so many of us, are completely out of work for the foreseeable future.”
The clubs might be empty, but the dance goes on.