If you’re raring to go off-screen and find some theater in the flesh – and safely in the great outdoors – there are two shows for you to enjoy.
“Fafalo!” opens July 25 in the Camden Amphitheater, presented by the Camden Shakespeare Festival and Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble. And Celebration Barn Theater’s “Just Outside the Window: A Drive-Thru Performance,” which audience members will indeed experience through the windows of their automobiles, runs five times only on July 25 in South Paris.
“Just Outside the Window,” has been specifically created for our strange, socially distant times.
“So much theater can’t happen right now, so we started thinking ‘what can happen?’” said Amanda Huotari, Celebration Barn’s executive artistic director. “Because our focus at Celebration Barn is on creating original physical theater, we had the flexibility to think about a huge range of possibilities, like what if people never get out of their cars? What exciting new possibilities does that open up?”
A few years back, the Barn presented a theater “safari” that took audiences all around the theater’s beautiful pastoral grounds to see performances happening up in trees and through orchards.
“We wanted to build on that idea of a theater adventure,” Huotari said, “and this time allow for physical distancing.”
She and Fritz Grobe (of exploding Diet Coke and Mentos fame, and a Celebration Barn faculty member) led the way in creating a drive-thru theatrical tour of the Barn that will give audiences a taste of circus arts – wire walking, juggling, fiddle playing, acrobatics – performed by a cast of world-class physical performers and musicians who had been touring all over the country before the pandemic. (The Barn will also be offering circus training for kids, starting in August.)
As for “Fafalo!,” Ziggurat first staged the show in Los Angeles in 2007. Executive Director (and playwright) Stephen Legawiec thought it would be a good choice for this, particularly interesting summer.
First of all, “Fafalo!” is a Commedia dell’arte-styled show, with no set, a small cast playing multiple roles, and action that can easily be performed anywhere and with almost no physical contact between the actors. Second, it’s a joyful comedy about problem-solving, with a plot that, as Legawiec said, might sound a little familiar: “An unqualified clown is mistakenly named king just as a monster invades the city; everyone must work together to solve an ancient riddle that will defeat the villain.”
Both shows will practice social distancing safety for their audiences. In Camden, with a cap of 40 audience members sitting in specified locations at least 14 feet from the actors, and in South Paris, of course, with the handy protective barrier of everyone’s windshields.
Rehearsals also called for some new protocols. The cast of “Fafalo!” rehearsed exclusively outdoors and with physical distancing, although some actors from common households made for convenient exceptions to the 6-foot rule: the characters cast as The Lovers, Hannah Daly and Nolan Ellsworth, are roommates in real life, and Legawiec’s wife, Dana Legawiec, and their kids are also in the cast.
“This gives us some latitude with the staging,” Legawiec said, “and is also very much keeping in the Commedia tradition of families performing together.”
Actors will be wearing masks in “Fafalo!,” but not protective masks. They are traditional wooden half-masks created by master Balinese artist Nyoman Setiawan. While the masks were not a COVID-19 innovation, they do turn out to be a useful theater device for these times.
“Working in masks requires the actors to express through their entire bodies, to be larger-than-life,” said Dana Legawiec, who is also the show’s mask and movement coach. “The masks help the actors physically amplify their bodies and movement to fill that extra distance between players and audience. In this way, this is the perfect kind of play to present during COVID.”
And why is live theater important right now?
“Theatre has been going on for thousands of years, not just because we want it, but because we need it,” Legawiec said. “And we as artists need to share this with an audience just as much as they need to receive it. People are missing contact.”
Likewise, “There is no substitute for the joy being together,” Huotari said. “With this show, we’re looking to bring the audience back into the joy of a shared experience.”
And so it turns out that a pandemic can be a mother of invention, of new forms and returns to traditional ones.
“Instead of focusing on what’s not happening,” as Huotari said, “let’s keep staying open to opportunities and put the focus on what is possible.”
Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.