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The 2.0 Theater: How Pefrormers Responded to the Lockdown

The inevitable closing of theaters has subverted the rules of performing, leading to a radical adjustment. Actors and actresses are no longer required to gather in an empty room and interact with each other because the stage has lost its physicality and has moved online. This is how this new system works.

Beatrice Pelliccia, former acting coach at Susan Batson Studio, NYC, oversees the new classes. The students meet via an online platform and get mentally ready to perform through a well-structured series of mindfulness exercises, namely the Batson Technique.

Acting Coach Beatrice Pelliccia

In order to assist in the development and construction of the characters, the students are required to identify key elements of this training: Need, Public Persona, and Tragic Flaw. As a result, all these factors come together, and the actors are ready to perform. They are given either a monologue or a dialogue and a time frame in which they have to get into the part. The magic starts when each one of them is called to act in front of the others.

Undoubtedly, some initial resistance was expected. Many actors showed skepticism: the absence of a real stage and the impossibility of touching and speaking with each other could have negatively influenced their work. Nonetheless, most of them signed up for the program and soon realized that acting was not dead. A strong sense of nostalgia for the public still permeates the classes, however all of them recognize a level of satisfaction with their online experience.

Actress, writer, director, producer, teacher, and coach Susan Batson

Rehearsals end with a final confrontation, where the teacher and the actors discuss each performance individually and express their views on the activity. Interestingly, every person is asked to judge their peers in order to actively stimulate critical thinking and build a community based on mutual aid. This is a crucial moment as the students are forced to reveal their inner fears, needs, and passions. This is exactly what the Susan Batson technique is all about: sharing and collaborating. The classes are different every week, and the exercises, ranging from mimicking animals to impersonating strangers, change every week too.

Acting class taking place online

The response of the performing art world to the pandemic has been swift and clever, but there is still work to do. Unless all the events planned for 2021 become virtual, the entire sector is destined to remain trapped in an uncertain future. Earlier this year, the United States federal government announced a $2 trillion economic stimulus package in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. It included $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which can grant the money to institutions that need it. Besides financial aid, alternative activities such as socially distanced performances are taking place. Many ballet companies are running classes for their dancers via Zoom, and classes are also broadcast, including from the American Ballet Theatre. The art world is thus facing an unprecedented crisis and needs to react bravely and reinvent the entire structure on which it built this industry. The first steps have been made, now we just need to witness the show.

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