In past weeks, I’ve posted about the plans of various theaters to resume live performances during these quarantimes, employing a variety of techniques to (theoretically) make the theatrical presentation as safe as possible. I even have a few friends who’ve participated in such productions. My fingers are crossed for everybody’s safety – but as I’m ensconced in my South Brooklyn apartment with no plans to use mass transit any time soon, I don’t expect to see any of these productions.
I did see one of the rehearsals, though.
A little over a week ago, on a sunny weekend afternoon, I donned my mask and went for a long walk. I wound up a few blocks west of my own neighborhood, in Dyker Beach park. As I walked the park’s perimeter, I heard some music – not the usual pop that blares out of somebody’s portable speakers at their weekend social gathering, and seeming to come from a live keyboard. Coming to get a closer look, I saw that there was indeed a flesh-and-blood human being playing a portable keyboard. There was also another man holding a script and directing four teenage girls in something. They were working on the kind of approximation of Broadway choreography, all pointing heavenwards and makeshift jazz hands, that high school drama presentations have seared into our memories. And as a concession to our perilous times, all four young women were sporting full-face plexiglass shields as they sang.
It was a strange sight, but understandable. It’s summer, a peak season for drama camps and other youth programs, and if this was the sort of thing necessary to keep them financially viable, then so be it. But I was so fixated on the spectacle of the plexiglass shields that it took me another minute or two to notice the truly surrealistic aspect of the scene.
The kids were rehearsing in a separate park, across the street from where I was standing. And I was looking at them thru barbed wire fencing.
Dyker Beach park, you see, is adjacent to Brooklyn’s own U.S. Army base, Fort Hamilton. Yes, it’s an active army base, and its property is sealed off from civilians. And yet somehow, this little theatrical group was rehearsing on the base. They certainly weren’t trespassing, and didn’t seem cowed by their environment – they were jumping about and singing in their plexiglass shields as if it was the most natural place in the world to be.
A little internet research tells me that Fort Hamilton is indeed the base (so to speak) of operations for the Narrows Community Theater. According to the website, I had chanced upon rehearsals for their summer youth program (as I suspected), which offered their outdoor performance this past weekend. The website mentioned that you’d need to show your ID to gain access to the base – but nowhere on the site does it mention what their arrangement with the army base is, and how that came to be their home. The mystery I chanced upon in the park remains unsolved.
Is this standard operating procedure these days? In addition to the contents of Area 51 and our leader’s private conversations with Vladimir Putin, do our armed forces need to keep the secrets of teenage choreography? Is this a local phenomenon, or are there there many such community theater groups on military bases throughout the country? What happens if one of them wants to do Hair?
Of course, if this is a permanent arrangement of some sort, then considering our national reluctance to fund the arts and our eagerness to fund the military, it’s kind of an inspired one.