Theatre Off-Balance

Theatre Off-Balance

From a recent workshop with Frantic Assembly, photo by Mark Peterson. Pictured (left to right): Fynta Sidime, Chih-Jou (RoRo) Cheng, Bethany Burnside, Kat Kaplan, Madison Weinhoffer, Sarah Hensley

When I applied for graduate theatre programs, the last thing I was worried about was how clean the classrooms were going to be. Then this spring happened and here we are, masked, sanitized, temperature checked, vitamin C fueled and COVID tested. I could sit here and tell you about theatre in the time of COVID and how exactly we are addressing it here at Columbia (which is to say very successfully, in my opinion), but my peers have successfully addressed most of the basics in posts before this one and it’s probably going to change by the time folks apply for the next cohort, anyways. So, let’s abstract it a bit.

What does it mean to perform, collaborate, DEVISE in a space where we can no longer touch each other? How do we work when we can only see half of each other’s faces? My god, if we lock down again, how do we devise on Zoom?! The answer is that we, at least here at Columbia, are trying to view these changes as challenges instead of obstacles. Yes, Zoom theatre is incredibly frustrating at times, but how do we take what is amazing about a platform like Zoom (under the usual circumstances) and allow it to work with us instead of against us? How do we adapt?

More Frantic Assembly work, photo by Mark Peterson. Pictured: Kat Kaplan, Ben Wippel, and Lindsey Ball

The EDPP curriculum is centered around the core concepts of Jacques Lecoq’s pedagogy and I find that going through Lecoq’s “Fundamental Journey” is a useful tool for me in dealing with pandemic life. The Fundamental Journey, for those unfamiliar, is at first about navigating a world that is in balance: from the “ocean of all oceans” into a forest, then up and over a mountain, across a river, into a plain or field and concluding in the desert, watching the sun set. Once we have taken this journey in a balanced or “neutral” form, we begin to explore this same world when it is off balance. The challenge becomes this: How do I stay “neutral” or how do I keep my desire to move forward alive in a world that is fighting against me at every turn? As we explore this in class, I’m struck by how relevant this is to the world we currently live in. Everything is off balance. Everywhere you turn someone is in a mask (or god forbid not in a mask), hand sanitizing stations are in nearly every common space, buses and trains are running slower to make time for routine cleanings, at school we have to sanitize the floor between movement classes to maintain a sanitary space. If you had told me in March that this is what the world was going to be like when I began my graduate journey, I’m not sure that version of Abbi would have been on board.

Lindsey Ball and me drifting along the Riverwalk in search of creative inspiration

And yet, here I am. Here we are. We continue to move forward in an off-kilter world, despite the challenges, despite the inconveniences, despite the fears. And isn’t that the human spirit, at its core: the desire to move ever onward, the will to persevere, to survive?