After just beginning the casting process for a spring production, First City Players’ usual bustle of activity was brought to a standstill by the spread of the novel coronavirus to Ketchikan this past month.
While many activities in the community continue to happen over Zoom or other virtual conferencing technology, theater can be tricky to do without an audience, FCP Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson told the Daily News during a Friday interview.
Nelson said that “to make theater, it takes two things.”
“It takes an actor and an audience, and right now, they can’t be in the same room,” Nelson said, referring to current shelter-in-place and social distancing guidelines. “So what makes theater happen is impossible. Which is really frustrating, because we’re used to being able to make that happen all the time.”
The lack of an audience might have temporarily halted a production of “Honk!” that was set for May, but FCP has developed new ways to keep engaged with the local arts community: social media.
By posting messages to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, FCP has developed “themes” for each day of the week.
Even without being able to provide productions, “there are ways to still make connections, and that is what we’re trying to do through our weekly posts,” Nelson explained.
Everyday, FCP staff will post to social media, following a different theme.
Each week kicks off with “musical Monday,” in which FCP posts information and stories about a classic musical.
Nelson said she has been “tying it in with a little bit of where the American musical came from and a little bit of American musical theater history.”
“It’s fun because you get to listen to things that you maybe haven’t ever heard or forgotten that you knew,” Nelson said, noting that the post was a way to “reintroduce or reacquaint” people with musicals.
Musical Monday this week spotlighted the classic production “Showboat.”
According to Nelson, the theatrical production was the “first time that songs totally integrated with the story to tell one cohesive whole.”
FCP has dedicated Tuesdays to Shakespeare by developing a “Shakespeare club” for interested participants.
Nelson said that the idea will be similar to a book club, with Clare Bennett leading discussions on the play “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“She will have us read a section of the play, we’ll talk about that together — of course, over social media or over Zoom — and then we’ll watch that portion … of the film of that production,” Nelson said.
The goal of the group is simply to learn more about the play and Shakespeare.
“A lot of people are terrified of Shakespeare,” Nelson noted. “It feels as though it's a foreign language, they don’t understand it. It’s just trying to make the whole idea of what Shakespeare is more approachable.”
After Shakespeare, “Hump Day Game Day” is next on FCP’s new weekly calendar.
Nelson said that the first “Hump Day Game Day” was posted on social media on Wednesday, and featured herself and her teenage son playing a theater game called “What are you doing?”
“It makes your brain hurt, but in a good way,” Nelson said of Wednesday’s game.
The games will change each week, and Nelson will continue to use her family to demonstrate how the activity works.
FCP also is engaging in weekly “Throwback Thursday” posts.
“We will be posting pictures of former shows, and they could go back 50 years — I don’t know how far we’re going to be able to dig back — and have things that you’ll be able to actually scan and see what's in there,” Nelson said.
She said it was encouraged for people to share memories and stories about the past productions, as well as try to identify the cast members from their past pictures.
On Fridays, Nelson said that FCP Marketing and Outreach Director Amanda Glanzer would be tackling a “Weekend Watch Friday” post, dedicated to sharing theatrical productions that people can view online and from the comfort of their homes.
In a social media post early Friday afternoon, FCP shared the links to view productions of “Treasure Island,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong.”
Nelson also noted that FCP has been giving unwanted bolts of fabric to individuals throughout the community who are part of the mask-making effort.
The fabric is from FCP’s stock of donated or bulk materials that will not be used in a production.
Cloth or fabric masks were recently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those who have to be in public spaces, such as grocery stores.
Nelson estimated that FCP had provided over 50 bolts worth of fabric to community members who are continuing to sew the masks for “vulnerable” populations.
“We’re having the challenge of how to be relevant when you can’t do theater as you know it,” Nelson said.