Amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic, many theaters and arts groups have closed their doors, postponing and cancelling performances until further notice. Some groups, however, are carrying the phrase “the show must go on” into this time of challenging circumstance.
Many groups worldwide are finding ways to bring their shows to the masses virtually. A staple in the arts community, Broadway has opened its shows for free streaming online while it’s closed to the public. In Anne Arundel County, many artists have followed Broadway’s lead, putting on shows and making them available to the public via internet streaming.
One of those groups is the Pandemic Players. The lead organizer of the Maryland chapter of this project is Stephen Deininger, whose brainchild brought together theater companies and actors from Annapolis to Harper County to keep them active and support suffering theaters through pandemic social distancing.
“When we put this idea out, it was at the beginning of self-quarantine,” Deininger said. “I kind of just threw out the idea on social media.”
The project began on Thursday, March 12, and grew fast. For Pandemic Players productions, each actor plays a part to their personal cameras in their homes, but when put together with other production values and livestreamed on Facebook, the result is a free theater production that is nothing short of excellent.
In these strange times, the actors are in “the worst conditions you could ever ask an actor to perform from,” Deininger said. But when the word went out, it spread like wildfire. Both Deininger and his associate Paul Valleau have been a part of the Maryland theater community for years, so it was easy for them to collect interested participants to prepare for their first production. During the production, viewers are able to silently participate through comments on the livestream.
“During a show, you normally can’t talk,” Deininger said. The livestream gives the participants a respectful and non-disruptive means of interacting.
Though productions are part of the lineup for Pandemic Players, the light that they shine isn’t limited to livestream theater.
“This idea was not only to keep people’s spirits alive but to keep people funded,” Deininger said. On the group’s Facebook page, they are encouraging the public to donate to theaters that are struggling due to being shut down.
“First thing we do is decide as a community who is in the greatest need,” Deininger said. The group posts active links to preregister 501(c)(3) organization donation sites and plans to promote them with each show.
Their first show, “St. Joan,” took place on March 21, and the affiliated group for this show was Spotlighters Theater of Baltimore. The next show, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” took place on March 28. Showtime will be each week on Saturday at 7:00pm.
Since the group’s conception, many others have reached out to Deininger asking to create a chapter of Pandemic Players in their own locations. Deininger said he was happy to see others wanting to create this sort of atmosphere and encouraged them to do so. Since then, chapters have sprung up in Los Angeles; Chicago; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and even New Zealand.
“What we’re going through now is a very short-term situation, we hope,” Deininger said. “We joke that we are the only theater company in history that looks forward to closing.”
Downtown Annapolis is offering daily concerts at www.facebook.com/annapolisstreaming.