In the sixth installment of Halloween in the Time of Coronavirus, Tally Briggs discusses the difficulty of Covid-proofing live theatre and the advantages of switching to the worldwide web.
In the realm of Halloween Theatre, Drama After Dark: An Evening of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey would seem to have some potential potential for surviving a pandemic. More often than not, the collection of short plays has been staged in outdoor venues (most often at Huntington Gardens, as seen in the image at top), which provide the sort of natural ventilation and easy social distancing recommended to avoid spreading Coronavirus infection. Also, many of the pieces are one-person monologues, which means the stars need not worry about keeping six feet away from other actors.
Nevertheless, live theatre by its nature includes an element of unpredictability, and the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Because of that uncertainty, a decision was made to switch Drama After Dark from the live format to an online presentation for Halloween 2020. Hollywood Gothique interviewed Tally Briggs, the Grande Dame of Drama After Dark, about transplanting her annual production from from the stage to the Internet.
Hollywood Gothique: When did it become apparent that you would have to do something different this year because the pandemic would not be over by October?
Mid-April. While we had four dates for this year's production at our new venue in Pasadena, once the pandemic hit, performing live this year was never going to be a possibility due to the very nature of our show.
Hollywood Gothique: Why not? In at least one sense you seem to have an advantage, since your shows are typically presented outdoors.
Our shows are very intimate, so outdoors or not, I know that I, personally, being an actor, have no desire to sit in front of another actor who is speaking loudly and sending any airborne spray my way, even if that actor was 20 feet away outside. (Have you seen Hamilton on Disney+? We tend to spit while speaking.) If there was a breeze, it would make it exponentially more dangerous. I also don't want to be performing in front of people who might not take it as seriously as I do and, if someone started coughing, might create panic, sending everyone running for the hills in the middle of the performance.
Live theatre consists of having a live audience, and we would never consider putting our fans or our cast and crew in harm's way. While I'm thankful that film and TV production here has for the most part begun to get started again, the logistics and money needed to create a controlled bubble to keep everyone safe and healthy doesn't allow for the existence of a live audience, as it's too much of a wild card and the risk is too great. At this point, no live-audience production is insurable, and therefore will not happen.
Hollywood Gothique: How did you go about reimagining Drama After Dark for the Internet?
Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point where everyone has a lowlight video camera at their fingertips if they have a smartphone. And while some adjustments had be made, the Poe pieces have always been the theatrical equivalent of telling ghost stories around a campfire with a flashlight on our faces. So we made the pieces even simpler by having the actors speak directly to the camera and just tell the story. Sometimes, only using a single light source actually opened up new avenues of creativity with light direction and shadow, while speaking directly to each audience member, making it far more personal than it's ever been.
Granted, since everyone is still very much in a quarantine situation, and working from home/overseeing their children's long-distance-learning, it's been a real challenge for everyone to find the window of opportunity that would allow our guerrilla-filming to take place.
We did keep the original cuttings of the longer pieces that had to originally be trimmed for time when performed live due to timing of the overall production.
Hollywood Gothique: How will the virtual medium change the show?
Hopefully, we will be able to reach a larger audience. I also think because of the more intimate nature of the pieces, there's a new level of creepiness - at least I hope so. And because of the pandemic, "The Masque of the Red Death" is no longer a cautionary tale told from the safety of the distant past!
Hollywood Gothique: What was the core element of Drama After Dark that you wanted to preserve?
Drama After Dark has always been about intimate performances, staying true to the original text, by candlelight and torchlight.
Hollywood Gothique: Are any of the changes something you might want to carry over next year, when, presumably, the pandemic will be over?
Live theatre and film are two entirely different storytelling mediums and require completely different skills as actors - not to mention the environments are completely different - so it's doubtful. However, while we all miss performing live and hope the return to theatre is in the not too distant future, it motivated us to get serious about making this a film project, which we've always wanted to do, and hopefully will give the opportunity to explore that further. Stay tuned!
The video presentation of Drama After Dark is available on their website (dramaafterdark.com) and their YouTube page. We have embedded all the currently available videos at top; more will become available at the links as time permits.
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