Op-Ed: Performing Theater in the Age of COVID-19

Marlie Kass, Writer

Theater has always been a constant in my life. When I received a text from a friend nearly a year ago that, due to the worsening pandemic, Broadway had closed for the foreseeable future, it didn’t seem real.

I never thought that I would find myself acting and directing from my room while staring at a screen. When my performances first moved online, I felt like I had lost everything that I love about theater.

Yet, as I look back, I see the opportunity that this has given me to grow as a performer. Theater is not the same as it was before, but I feel lucky to still be performing. 

I have always focused on performing most over the summer, but my summer did not go as planned due to the pandemic. When my original summer plans fell through, I decided to take a risk and try something new. I discovered that the Boston Conservatory had a program for high schoolers—a three-week musical theater acting intensive.

I auditioned for the program and was thrilled to hear I was accepted.

At first, I was nervous to begin the program. How could theater—something reliant on people and communities— function when we all had to be apart? However, as soon as the first meeting started, I remembered why I love performing.

I was placed in a cohort with thirteen other teenagers from across the country, and we quickly became close friends. I found myself so immersed in working with my peers that the outside world seemed to disappear while we were working. 

I will always remember singing a duet with my partner in California. In that moment, I realized how amazing it is that the technology can connect so many people and provide experiences that would not otherwise occur. 

However, I still doubted if a full show could be performed on Zoom. Luckily, I didn’t have to wonder for long.

The next month, I had the opportunity to be in the play Metamorphoses while simultaneously directing a show I wrote for a festival. 

At first, I had no idea how it would turn out, but the casts were as strong as ever. Seeing homemade backdrops made out of empty water bottles and streamers reflected how excited everyone was to be performing. 

While it was difficult learning how to direct over Zoom, I had an amazing four-person cast who worked with me to bring the script to life. The show turned out to be one of my favorites to be involved in.

At this point, performing over Zoom feels like second nature. I miss the feeling of being on a real stage, but I know I’ll get to have those experiences again in the future.

Until then, I’m grateful for how theater has been able adapt to the current circumstances. I believe that once the pandemic is over, performances will return better than ever before.