I don’t want to jinx anything.
Since the start of the Quarantimes last March, the Tuesdays at Nine cold reading series for which I serve as co-Creative Director and co-host has been operating virtually, on Zoom. We are, of course, one of the many theatrical programs forced to exist in this strange, artificial way; we’ve conducted our entire season through remote video conferencing. Tomorrow, May 25, will mark the final reading of the season – and since we’re taking an actual summer break this time, and since things are opening up all over the city and all signs indicate that theatrical venues will be shortly following suit, this will be (most likely) be the last time we hold an online cold reading.
Which means this is the last time I’ve had to prep for one of these online cold readings.
Ordinarily, when we’re in person, the series is a cold reading series, and therefore we don’t cast anything in advance. We open our doors at 8:30, and then we cast the pieces with the actors in attendance that evening, handing them their scripts on the spot. That’s not logistically possible over zoom, so we’ve had to do more advance work for each reading than would normally be the case. Now, pdfs of the scripts are emailed to confirmed participants the night before, along with the zoom link and instructions. Each week’s writers are reached out to and confirmed the Friday before each Tuesday’s reading; once we know our casting needs, we look at our spreadsheet of literally hundreds of potential participants, and reach out to them over the weekend, emailing and texting until all of the roles are refilled. A few weeks of vacation aside here and there, that’s what we’ve been doing each weekend of the Quarantimes.
The thing of it is, as much as it feels like this pandemic has been one undifferentiated blob of time (which you can refer to as something ominous but catchy, like the Quarantimes), as far as casting virtual theater goes there have been two very distinct phases. In the beginning, when everything was shut down and we were all isolated and confused, we were all desperate for any opportunity to see our friends, to perform in any capacity, to do anything but stay locked in our apartments alone with our fears and anxieties. It was a nightmarish situation – and one in which it was really easy to get a cast together with a few emails.
But things changed over time. Some of those changes were good, as film and television production began to ramp up again with safety protocols in place. Some of those changes were far from good; actors with day jobs in food service, for instance, found that when they were called back to work, aside from the potential dangers they were facing, they were in a situation where understaffing and covid protocols made it impossible to adjust their work schedules. It was one more element of difficulty in a climate that doesn’t value labor, putting people in extreme stress as they hang on to jobs that don’t pay anywhere close to what they should.
So I feel a little churlish in adding my own complaint, but nevertheless it made casting way more difficult. I had to reach out to significantly more actors to secure what I needed, and it took significantly longer for these stressed-out, overtaxed souls to respond.
As a result, my weekends for the past several months have all been one continuous blur of me sitting by my laptop, waiting for email responses. Staring at screens and waiting, as the world has fallen down (and possibly started picking itself up?) around me. A haze of permanent anxiety, from both current events and deadlines, that never seemed to end.
Hopefully it’s ending now?
I do love my job, and serving my theatrical community – but like all of us who are getting more than a bit stir crazy right about now, I’m looking forward to a summer vacation, whatever form that might take.