The Sweet Sadness of Virtual Theatre

Every time I finish watching a virtual production or taking a zoom acting class I feel an odd mix of connection and sadness. Although I love that the internet gives us the option of remaining in community when we are physically distancing, online theatre fails to provide us with what we love so much about live performance: gathering.

COVID-19 has created so much loss. Loss of life and loved ones. Loss of plans and careers and businesses and of the small joys that get us through the day. For actors in particular, it has been a time of incredible grief. We lost our industry as we know it, seemingly overnight.

The news that Broadway (and likely other New York theatres) will remain closed until January 2021 was another painful blow in a series of seemingly unending tragedies dealt to all of us this year. It means we have at least five more months of this yearning for the stage, missing the company of our fellow actors and theatremakers, reminiscing over past audiences. It seems a small thing to forego in the face of a deadly virus and ongoing uprisings for racial justice, but it is not a small thing to us.

Still, we forge on. We write plays made for Zoom. We attend online scene study classes and sit in the virtual audience of play readings on Facebook Live. We put on panels and roundtables about how theatre will look when this is all over. And for the first time in the history of theatre, we have a niggling fear that theatre, at last, is finally dead. We wonder whether future generations will have the thrill of sitting together in too-close seats, listening to the first notes of a musical. What will become of this beautiful art form we love so much?

Humans are by and large social creatures. And theatre people, even those who, like me, are introverted, particularly crave spending time in the presence of others. We love sensing the energy of our scene partners, hearing the audience inhale in unison, and coming together as an ensemble. Virtual theatre has its moments of magic, and it’s the best we’ve got for now. I’m truly grateful that we have it. But I can’t help but wish I hadn’t taken the stage for granted. I miss it, like I miss dancing in a crowded bar or going outside without fear. I miss it with my whole body.

Until we meet again.

Love and theatre,

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