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Essential Nonessential – Spring Awakening

Jay Michaels continues his exploration through the current uncertainty of the arts. 


Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. A time when you step outside in your finest and – if you are an stage or film artists – a time to present your wares at festivals and production houses.

Well, this year looks a lot different.

In speaking with many artists, I’ve heard joyous “I’m getting ready to burst [back] on the scene” to “I’m going to tread lightly” to “I’m speaking to you from my parents’ home … where I shall stay.”

unnamed.jpgGranville Wyche Burgess has been a member of the stage, screen, and television universe for half a century. Award-winning and recognized, Granville was promoting his new musical, COMMON GROUND when the ground was pulled out from under him. Maybe it was his many years in the biz, but he is looking at the newbies before himself:

“I can’t imagine a vaccine being ready before at least one year, and that seems to mean that people may not gather together before then.  I write that sentence well-knowing that I can’t imagine what that world would look like.  I am at the back end of my career. I keep thinking about those who are just starting their careers or are currently in theatre programs.” In terms of health, he’s family first, “I wake up every morning praying for the health of all those I love and thanking God for those who are on the front lines, praying that they can be safe.”

Finally, when looking at the other side of change, it is here that his faith takes the wheel again, “Humans are adaptable: once we have the vaccine we will be able to resume a life that looks almost like it did before coronavirus.  The fear will fade. If there is a silver lining in all this, it will be that leaders will understand that we must cooperate across nationalities in upgrading our public health readiness or we will suffer more pandemics, more deaths, more disruption, and more despair.”


In a career of equal length, writer/reviewer Robert Viagas is holding on tight, “I was on the verge of bringing four major projects to fruition, one of which included a contract that was supposed to be signed the day they closed all the theatres. Conversely, there was a book project that I had set aside when all these other projects cropped up. I’m now deep into work on finishing that one. Perhaps all will come through.”

He sees both sides of the future and again, will simply wait-in-the-wings, “Live theatre has been in a wonderful Renaissance over the last two decades. I’m worried that the world economy will crawl out of this plague only to plunge into an economic Depression.”

That brought up in him his own great fear, “I’m concerned that people will have gotten so used to separation and so fearful of gathering together that the love of community so necessary to live theatre will be lost or compromised.”

But again, both sides are there in Mr. Viagas’ mind, “On the other hand, perhaps people will miss it so much that they will flock together again—but protected by vaccines and effective treatments that are being developed. I fear the former scenario and hope for the latter.”


Laurie (center) with the last Steve Silver and Thomas J. Kane at Sardis


“I am not changing my career as a Director.  If I plan to change anything, I may consider acting more in the future.  I recently had a very challenging experience acting in a play called AFTER THE HANGING.  The play took place in the South in 1927 and the subject matter was rather difficult and disturbing to me personally. I had to do research into that time period.  Another avenue I would like to explore next is playwriting.” Laurie Rae Waugh, one of the leading directors at the American Theatre of Actors, is looking at this like Robert Viagas. She has time, so she will fill her arsenal with art and be ready to explore all new avenues when we can again, walk the avenues. She is doing this to help her friends and to be part of a new off-off Broadway movement.

“Because many actors work in these fields to pay the rent and make ends meet, this may stop some truly gifted actors from pursuing their passion which is acting” she says wearily, but she imagines indie being in charge when this all ends … at least for a little while, “I believe that due to social distancing and the current economic climate we are in, theatre goers are going to flock and embrace smaller and more affordable theater companies in the future.”


And speaking of the ATA, “I plan to continue acting, directing, designing sets, sound & lights, and playing music,” said Ken Coughlin a repertory member of Laurie Rae Waugh and technical director of the landmark American Theater of Actors, but, I hear a “but” … “BUT I’m most afraid of the affect this will have on others. I have already lost several friends, with the unfortunate expectation of losing others. I also know some who will not recover financially. In addition, I’m afraid of the affect this will have on the children, how their family units will be affected, and how this interruption will change their education.” Ken is hopeful thanks to open hearts around him but cynical due to closed minds, “While I see some evidence of good will and charity during this crisis, which I sincerely hope will continue, I see little evidence of a closing of  the Left – Right political divide.”


Nannette (second from the right, just above husband and fellow improv’r, Robert Baumgardner) with her IRTE-TEAM

For nearly a decade, the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble has led the charge bringing quality entertainment to audiences hungry for imaginative and unique products. Combining theatrical structure with improvisational skilling has made them a household name, but now, Nannette Deasy, the artistic director is in a quandary – how do you lead a charge when you are sheltering in place?

“We have a very supportive community that really came through during our recent fundraiser,” Nannette said enthusiastically, “Because of their support, we hope to pick back up again when we’re given the all clear and resume the season in September or October or ?” She fears what Robert feared and, in a way, even Granville expressed the same concern, although this counters Laurie’s bright(er) hopes.

“I’m afraid that a lot of the smaller indie theatre companies may not be able to afford to produce at the level they were used to and that the ones who do manage to weather the storm, may not find available spaces. Affordable theater rentals and entertainment venues in NYC were at risk before the current crisis. Many more will probably disappear in the year to come. I’m also afraid that many of our artists may no longer be able to afford living and creating in New York.”

Remember the guy who called me from his parents’ home?


Ashley Adelman of Infinite Variety Productions allowed inspiration to take her over instead of depression. And speaking of the depression … “there was a great article I read that mentioned the Federal Theatre Project. I started a thesis about them. After the Great Depression this was funded by the WPA. It led to so many great pieces of art. And even though the government eventually shut it down, it pushed the limits and gave artists money that was needed. And is how we ended up with regional theatre.”


It also was the unofficial birth place of off and off-off Broadway thanks to “the Cradle will Rock.”

“The arts will be needed when this is over. And like the Federal Theatre – it should be ‘free, adult and uncensored” she said with great enthusiasm.

Known for her immersive works, Ashley is looking below for her next event,


“I am interviewing the underground astronauts. I have two interviews and will be working on my third. This was to be a documentary immersive piece, but I am now rethinking. I still want to do documentary immersive theatre. However, the immersive part will have to be rethought. The type of theatre I was looking to took away the 4th wall from actor and artist and since it was based on actual events and people – it placed people nowadays in that time period and given circumstances. History could come out of a book. An audience member could walk in person’s shoes and have a better understanding of someone else from another time, place or circumstance.

78089091_10220724266600632_4984585610325917696_n.jpgThe last show IVP did before Covid- 19 was an immersive documentary piece based on the expose Nellie Bly wrote. Audience members got to see what it was like to be called “insane” when you were simply, different, acts out against the establishment or without family and resources. It led to further conversations of how this relates to institutions nowadays, journalism in the present and other conversations of how things have or have not changed since Nellie’s time. It was inspiring. Then the world changed. I am not sure how to proceed as I still want people to feel for each other, to understand each other. To take the hand of a patient from the late 1800s and be able to ask them questions. But how? And will we be able to bring theatre back to a place of a small black box there? To intimate settings? I do not know.” 

“I do want to help the theatre community. That I know,” she said, “What we are seeing with Covid is how important the arts are during these hard times. Not just to divert our attention to happier times or even to absorb oneself in a great piece of art but to make sure artists are treated with the respect they deserve. When this is over, and artists are able to convene again – we should not go back to fighting for theatre space. We should be helping each other to convert any space into an environment for art. To work on petitions that treat artists as workers and not unpaid interns. But as I sit on my computer and type this up, I am unsure of how to do that. Until the world opens again, I can only talk to other artists and see how I can help from behind a screen.”

Seems Ashley, like Nannette is ready to lead the charge – once she can simply move!

Like Ken, Ashley looks at the future with hope but a bit of fear, “…once we are allowed to be out in the world again we won’t come together in taking steps forward but instead let competition or fear pave the way.”

An indie resurgence? An artistic evacuation from NYC? More plays, less spaces, more money to pay but less money to give?

Lots of articles, lots of opinions and only one things is for sure …

We know nothing for sure.

See you on the other side.

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