Broadway recently announced it will remain closed until Sept. 6, worrying many actors, directors, designers and patrons about the decline of theater. However, the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, Fla., still remains hopeful for its fall season. Artistic Director Stephanie Lynge, is confident that by taking proper precautions, actors should soon be able to return to the stage.
“We are going to be much more fortunate than New York in being able to start finding safe ways to do theater a lot sooner,” Lynge said. “However, what exactly that looks like, we’re really not sure.”
Lynge discussed precautions the Hippodrome will be taking to ensure safety for the actors, audience members and staff. They include minimized audience occupancy with multiple seats between patrons and the purchase of an electrostatic sprayer to quickly and thoroughly sanitize all surfaces between performances. With these measures and the immense help of the staff, she hopes to facilitate a safe environment for the enjoyment of live theater.
Gainesville resident Shelly Scott is “really hoping that theater can rebound from this.” She shared her first memory of Gainesville theater: sitting in the front row for a production of “M. Butterfly” at the Hippodrome. The audience collectively reacted to the big plot twist, she said, though most of them already knew it was coming. She felt a palpable sense of community in the theater, and she thinks that the efforts being made by the Hippodrome to restore that are encouraging. She normally tries to attend one to two shows there every year, and plans to continue that tradition once it reopens.
While the Hippodrome does not have a definite reopening date, Lynge said they are planning a hybrid season — one with both online and in-person shows — to protect patrons’ health while pulling in revenue needed to continue performances and maintenance. They are also conferring with the Actors Equity Association regarding pay and safety for actors while doing online work.
“There is no ‘definite’ in the COVID era, but we are creative people and we will get creative to figure out how to create and share art in this new world,” Lynge said.
Actress and recent University of Florida graduate Gloria Halsell agreed that theater is shifting into a new art form entirely, one that she is both excited and worried to create. She expressed how much she loves acting, writing, and creating, but she is concerned about getting a job. When asked if she was scared about trying to join the workforce at a time like this, her answer was unequivocally yes.
“Yeah. I am,” Halsell said. “Being in school is a safety net. You do theater for the experience. It really is unfortunate that I have joined the world of having to make money for my art at a time where no one is making money for their art. Finding the joy of making art while this is all happening has been difficult for me.”
Broadway actor and Gainesville native Malcolm Gets, however, is not worried about the state of theater. He mentioned how every year, people express their worry about the future of theater, yet it continues on due to the passion of those involved.
Gets said, “I’ve been asked, ‘Why do many actors work for so little money?’ I tell them it’s because they just want to do it. Singers want to sing. Dancers want to dance. Actors want to act.”
He is confident that not only will artists continue creating art, but audiences will also still go out to see it. Gets sees similarities to his experience of Gainesville theater during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Hippodrome Theatre put on a production of “As Is” by William M. Hoffman, a play depicting the effects of the crisis on gay Americans. The show played to packed audiences of Gainesville residents supporting the arts, the actors, and each other. He expects that this compassion and fervor for the arts has not disappeared.
“I have great faith in Gainesville,” Gets said. “I’m so proud to have grown up there.”