By Clare Harbin ’23
What: A Pandemic Theatre Detour
Where: Six locations across Davidson College’s campus
When: July 24th-26th, 2020
What should I expect: Open scenes created by six groups of actors and directors. These scenes, which have lines but no well-defined characters or clear meaning, repeat the same text over and over in different contexts.
Safety: Some groups consist of actors who quarantined together, while others remain in masks and six feet apart. Audience members stay at least 20 feet away from the actors and each other, and masks are required.
Accessibility: The project has a livestream available each night for those who cannot participate- whether for health/safety reasons or geographical location. Bike tickets are also available for those local/without cars
Where does the money go: All ticket sales were donated to the Charlotte Hue House.
Who made this happen//Author’s note:
*While I cannot take credit nor speak to the creative ideas behind the project’s creation and execution, which were led by Zoe Harrison ‘21, Savannah Deal ‘18, Karli Henderson, and Steve Kaliski ‘07, I can speak about my personal experience as an artist in the ensemble. A huge shout-out to the aforementioned artists and the DACE COVID-19 Creative Initiative Grant for allowing this to happen!*
“I am feeling crushed by everything that’s happened.” This recurring quote from the Exit30Ensemble project captures how I have felt since we got the email from President Quillen on March 12th.
We were two rehearsal days shy of moving into the Duke Family Performance Hall — a mere two weeks away from the opening night of the world premier of Steve Kaliski’s The Refugees — when the college told us we would all be going home due to the growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
How would we create art in a world overtaken by COVID-19? How would we ensure the safety of a live audience? How would that art be accessible even if theatres opened back up again? Was I crazy for even thinking about a career in the field that could be forever lost to the world as we know it? One day this pandemic will end (hopefully), but will theatre ever return to the way it was? And, most importantly, should it?
I was overwhelmed. I was devastated. And while my emotional musings over my life are miniscule compared to those on the front lines of the pandemic or in the streets declaring Black Lives Matter, they were still authentic to a portion of my experience of the pandemic.
Though students read plays over Zoom (many of which I was involved in) and the Directing II One Act (in which I was cast) became a virtual radio show, it was all accompanied by a deep feeling of helplessness. Watching everything happen, both nationally and world-wide, it was devastating to know that no matter how much the world needed to discover about itself, theatre artists could do little to help bring clarity and community as they once had.
There is something special and powerful in gathering in a room together and creating art — art that reflects the world like a mirror and points out the gross injustices of our society to which we should be paying attention.
Exit30Ensemble did just that.
Because of this project, I was able to branch out beyond the Davidson bubble of theatre and work with professional artists spanning from Rock Hill to Charlotte to Statesville. Under the direction of Sarah Provencal, and in collaboration with actors Kevin Aoussou, Anna Goldstein, and Jenayda Shepherd, our new work was born. There was something different about this project. We knew that despite starting our work on Zoom calls, we would soon be together in person — socially distanced but creating nonetheless. This offered a desperately needed break from the projects that were born and lived completely online.
Our group’s piece was about grief. Lamentations of time lost, of injustices still unreconciled, the loss of shared space, of touching and togetherness. We had a devised theatre piece primarily made of physical movements and cardboard hands. We dealt with the grief of the murders of Black lives like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Aumaud Arbery, and countless others, of quarantine due to COVID-19, of lost time with loved ones, of the distance we must still maintain (re: cardboard hands), and of the world we viewed through a screen. We dealt with feeling crushed by everything that’s happened.
Exit30Ensemble diminished my fears of the perceived bleak future of traditional theatre. This is the time to try new things and to fail (or in this case, succeed). We can evaluate how to make theatre accessible to everyone, to bring theatre out of the buildings, onto campus, and into our communities. While I don’t know exactly what theatre at Davidson will look like for the next year, I rest easy knowing that it will be provocative and present and readily viewable for all. Yes, COVID may change the way we create theatre and share it with audiences now and for the foreseeable future. But perhaps this is a time as artists to grow our craft, to adapt, to persevere, and to continue the work towards justice.
Though I grieved the loss of a show, my first year of theatre cut short, and the fear that theatre will never be the same, I now recognize the power of adversity and the growth and change that comes with it. So here’s to new things, and to old, and to the beautiful and powerful art that is theatre.
*For more information on the project or to view the recorded scenes, please visit https://www.exit30ensemble.com/
Clarissa “Clare” Harbin ‘23 is an intended Theatre and Religious Studies Major from Portsmouth, VA. Clare can be reached at email@example.com.