How the Pandemic is Impacting Theatre Parents Nationwide

ABOVE: Costume designer Valérie Thérèse Bart with her infant during a Zoom meeting. Says Bart, “This was in August back before baby had mastered crawling and pulling himself up to stand. He could sit still for longer periods then.” Photo Credit: Rick N. Ho

A Homecoming Turned Convalescence 

When Chamblee Ferguson caught COVID-19, he’d been performing eight shows a week in the national tour of Broadway’s “Come from Away.” Playing to packed houses in dozens of cities amounted to infinite vectors of exposure. On March 12th the tour was playing his hometown of Dallas and his long time company, the Dallas Theatre Center, was hosting a celebratory reception when news broke of the citywide shutdown. Four days later he was symptomatic.

“I woke up on the 16th feeling, I’m sick, thinking, I hope this isn’t—but, it turned out to be, yeah.” Ferguson’s wife, actor Lynn Blackburn (who happens to be my stepsister), her mother, and their 6 year-old were ill for two weeks with respiratory symptoms Ferguson describes as “comparatively moderate.” Eight months later the couple find themselves unemployed while parenting their first grader full time, one of countless theater families whose lives have been upended by this crisis.

Parenting in theater was challenging before the pandemic. Now, embattled families must endure school closures, a collapsing daycare industry and skyrocketing positivity rates. As our industry reels from a tidal wave of layoffs, furloughs and canceled shows (virtual work notwithstanding), theater parents have the additional stressor of keeping their children healthy, learning, and fed at moment so many have lost, or will soon be losing, their health coverage and a quarter of American families struggle with food insecurity.

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Mercury Theater Shuts its Doors

Mercury Theater became the latest Chicago-area theater to announce devastating news last week, as they announced they would be closing permanently. Unlike Steep Theatre, this closure was directly caused by the economic impacts of the pandemic; in an interview with the Sun-Times, executive director L. Walter Stearns cited extreme loss of revenue as the reason for closure.

In a statement on their website, Mercury Theater said: “We sought to bring a little joy to the world and have made many friends along the way. Thank you to the artists who have been a part of our legacy. And thank you to the audiences who have supported our neighborhood theater.”

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Rescripted’s Guide to Streaming Theatre From Home

There are a lot of things that we currently miss about the outside world — writing in cute coffee shops, hanging with coworkers, the lakefront — but perhaps the most gutting thing for us artsy folk is the fact that all theatre in the world has pretty much ground to a screeching halt. We still have movies and TV, of course, but there’s nothing else quite like the breathless thrill of a hard-hitting story that is happening in the same room as you.

Luckily, however, there are plenty of theatres across our nation who have managed to make their art available despite shuttering their doors, and so we are happy to provide this handy list of streaming theatre productions. NOTE: We’re going to limit this list to streaming theatre that is either newly available because of the pandemic, or was recently made free because of the pandemic. We will also make regular updates.

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