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Cynthia Wisehart on Staging in Pandemic

Last year, when I wrote the 2020 editorial calendar, I dedicated this issue to Staging. I could never have imagined where Staging would be at this point in the history of the world.

First, I must deeply acknowledge the financial challenges faced by my staging colleagues, and the unprecedented impact on our treasured careers and connections to our audiences. This is very personal for me too. My first career was as a professional ballet dancer, and after that a theme park designer. My brother-in-law is a Live Nation lighting designer. My sister did the national tour circuit in musicals before she transitioned from the stage to tech. My other sister is the co-chair of dance and theater at the University of California. My family—like many of yours—is beset with challenges to our life’s work.

We chose this work for its timelessness. Like many of you, whatever the ups and downs of our performance careers, one thing seemed unassailable: Audiences would always gather. That was a certainty, and for most of us it’s the core of being human. Lives are measured in those moments, to paraphrase “Rent”

As I tried to pull together the stories for this most unusual Staging issue, I was struck by how flexible we can all be—how much people want to be in an audience, and how little it takes to spark that “let’s do a show” feeling in a crew. Show people are the embodiment of good attitude. All it takes is the tiniest opening and we’re back. Whatever the format.

For those who are still able to find ways to be audience, performer, or crew—thanks for keeping the spark alive. It really does matter that you keep creating. I’m thinking of my sister as I write this—and her dogged effort to make in-person dance classes work for her hopeful students in the state of California, where it is particularly hard. She is working the bureaucracy and inventing the compromises, all the while aware that for her students, this is their one and only college theater experience and she must fight for it as hard as they are.

You will see variations on that spirit echoed in some of the stories in this issue—whether concerts or worship. The people who shared their stories with me this month were an inspiration for their creativity and their fortitude, but most of all for their professional joy that leaked out at the slightest opportunity.

For those of you who must, for now, sit this out, who must maintain your lives away from the stage, the tour, the team, and the crowd, I wish you whatever peace and fortitude you can manage to scrounge together. Our professions were always in some ways precarious, but they are rooted in something deeper. If the show cannot go on, please remember that before we were performers, roadies, techies, and audiences we started out with a calling to community. So if I may, I’ll give myself some advice: remember the calling and let it carry me through in whatever form it can take, for now.


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