Not even a global pandemic can stop Gainesville theater.
The Hippodrome Theatre staff used a virtual program called Broadway Unlocked to recreate a live performance experience for patrons who are quarantined at their homes. The Hipp was able to showcase its socially-distanced production of Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir” while also connecting with the community, sharing behind-the-scenes secrets, and reminding audience members that the arts are resilient.
Over 50 audience members purchased $30 tickets for the online opening night and entered the virtual “lobby” program before the show. On the site, they found three tabs: the stage, the bar, and the mezzanine. Each tab imitated the actions that normally occur in each part of the theater.
“On the stage” before the show, uptempo tunes were being sung and played on the piano live by actor Brady Wease. The bar tab paired attendees together randomly and allowed for 3 minutes of conversation as their imaginary drink was being poured. The mezzanine tab had live conversations with “Souvenir’s” actors, director and designers. Audience members were able to switch between the tabs, taking in it all before the show began.
When showtime came around, everyone joined “the stage” to hear some live opening remarks from the show’s director Stephanie Lynge about the process.
“We were so excited to have something to work on together,” Lynge said. “To have [a project], even though it was weird and new and odd and something out of our comfort zone, was something to be treasured and we really enjoyed it.”
Then came the pièce de résistance: the show.
The play “Souvenir” was filmed just days before in the homes of the actors and edited together by Amanda Nipper and Bill Boothman, the Hippodrome’s sound designer and master electrician, respectively. To imitate a set or common background, the actors had curtains and historically accurate set pieces brought to their homes. Costumes were made without costume fittings and delivered to their homes.
Despite the fact that the show was not live, audience members remained engaged to the performance. The comments section sported many complimentary responses including “Bravo!” and “I’m having a religious experience.” Following the performance, an audience member was sharing to the group how as the show went on, it began to feel more and more like he was actually attending the show at the Hippodrome.
“It was jarring at the end when there wasn’t thunderous applause,” he said.
While the audience members are used to seeing these performances, the actors certainly weren’t used to watching themselves perform on their opening night. Malcolm Gets, who plays the role of Cosme McMoon, said it was an experience like no other.
Though he had starred in many plays, films, and television shows over the years, this theatre/film hybrid was uncharted territory for him. He said he loved every second of the experience from online rehearsals to filming his scenes from the comfort of his home. That being said, he still looks forward to a day when audiences can return to physical theaters.
“My dream is that the theatre will reopen and Kelly [Atkins], Stephanie [Lynge] and I will be able to do it in front of an audience,” Gets said.