Amidst the mixture of tedium and dread that is our life under lockdown these days, I managed to accomplish a theatrical goal of mine this past week – one I’ve had for over thirty years. I played the role of Daniel de Bosola in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi – possibly the greatest of the Jacobean dramas, written immediately after Shakespeare. I played it in a Zoom meeting of Dead Playwrights Society, that was only seen by four or five people other than the cast members – but damn it, it’s my favorite role in Jacobean drama (it’s as if Iago had a change of heart three quarters of the way thru Othello and became an avenging angel, and got the best dying line in the canon for good measure) and I played it all the same.
It’s weird, but I’m actually on a good run here. In the previous two online weekly installments of Dead Playwrights Society, I played Trinculo in The Tempest, and George Duke of Clarence in an adaptation of the Henry VI plays. And tonight (as of this posting), I’ll be reading Reverend Parris in a different group’s online reading of The Crucible. For a middle aged character actor with a focus on the classics, this is pretty much a perfect little chunk of resume building.
Or at least it would be, if these were stage productions.
I gotta be honest, I’ve never had this kind of luck when it comes to traditional stage productions. I don’t think anybody has.
And I think that’s something for us to consider, as we try and figure out what the heck we’re doing with this new performance medium we’re creating, and try and imagine how to recreate our theater institutions once we have public assembly back again. The old model, where throngs of actors march from audition to audition, for productions of the same easy-to-produce four character plays being presented to ever-dwindling audiences, simply wasn’t working. And it’s unlikely to magically start working if we restart society.
These zoom readings and performances, that we’re finding to be such a useful outlet in these times, are all being built out of existing communities of actors, and they’re enabling those communities to put up performances with a minimum of production requirements, rooted in love of the material and an instinctive desire to take care of that communities members. Whenever we do come back to normal, it would be nice to remember these things – there’s a chance we’d forgotten them somewhere along the way.