Local stage actors adjust while theaters are closed

DIGITAL MARCH SISTERS: Due to "stay home, stay safe" restrictions, the cast of Asheville Community Theatre's production of "Little Women" is not allowed to rehearse in person. Instead, the actors use BlueJeans video conferencing software to enhance their dramatic rapport. Photo by John O'Neil

Theaters are closed and performers are out of work, but if there’s one profession that’s built to weather the various consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, local actor Scott Treadway believes it’s his.

“In a lot of ways, actors are prepared for this,” he says. “We live like this all the time. We’re accustomed to periods where there’s not a steady income, so we have sort of supplemented and come up with ways of finding alternate sources of income, so a period of time where there’s no work is not something terribly new to me.”

Treadway had just closed Jeeves Saves the Day at North Carolina Stage Company and, as he did “several years ago for a few seasons,” resumed company management work for Flat Rock Playhouse when “stay home, stay safe” mandates brought the area theater industry to a halt. His headshot photography company, Treadshots, had been bringing in respectable side revenue, but with actors currently not looking for work, those services aren’t in high demand — or technically legal. Once statewide restrictions are lifted and his “nonessential” business is allowed to resume, he plans to begin accepting appointments.

“As of yet, I have tried to just manage with the resources that I’ve got. I haven’t gone the unemployment route or any of that stuff — and that’s just because I’m kind of hardheaded that way,” Treadway says. “If I can, hopefully, go through about three weeks of lean times, but then start booking headshots again, then I’m gonna be fine.”

Carin Metzger says she’s fortunate that “a decent majority” of her income comes from performing as an actor in local theaters and as a guide for LaZoom Tours. Heading into the middle of March, she had been about to open Immediate Theatre Project’s production of Well at NC Stage, but it was forced to shut down days before opening, and LaZoom had to stop running tours a day or two later.

“As many in the arts industry, and especially in Asheville, there are many ways we keep ourselves afloat and thriving financially and artistically, and to see it all being pulled out from under you in one, as I like to say, ‘swell foop’ is not only jarring, it leaves me at a loss as to how to adapt or even prepare for when things ‘come back,’” Metzger says.

“While Well is looking to remount in the future with as much of the cast as possible, not only was that a loss in income for me, but it could even affect my ability to claim acting for tax purposes, since a certain amount of my income has to be from that source.”

Though Treadway didn’t have a follow-up to Jeeves lined up until late June, he kicked off FRP’s Vagabond Video series by reprising his role as Arles from the theater’s Tuna plays. Metzger is on The Magnetic Theatre’s board of directors, where she’s helping develop an array of online content, and is involved with several local improv groups, including the NoSeeUms.

“We do audio improv, which seems like a pretty easy transition into a virtual realm, but even we are struggling in moving our rehearsals to online platforms,” she says. “Without each having professional audio equipment in our homes, using [the online videoconferencing platform] Zoom to try to create these scenes with our amazing piano improvisor Chuck Lichtenberger has proven less than ideal. But we’re not giving up hope.”

Before she was laid off from LaZoom, Metzger also got to film a segment of her character in her own apartment, focusing on how she was coping with quarantine. It was the first time she’d ever set up and lit her own shoot, she says, so the video is “a little out of focus” but provided a fun and fulfilling way to redirect energy.

“Although taking a character who’s used to being in front of 40 people in a purple bus, swinging from the handlebars and getting a lot closer than 6 feet to audience members, and translating that to film — well, it had its challenges, too,” she says.

Similar moments of adversity have arisen at Asheville Community Theatre, where the cast and crew of Little Women continue to prep via videoconferencing for the play’s potential opening in late spring or early summer.

“The lack of in-person rehearsals is hard on the cast, not only because we don’t get to move in the same room, or at all, but because we do not get to create the community that you get when doing a show, especially one that is emotional like Little Women,” says John O’Neil, the production’s stage manager.

“One thing that has come out during our rehearsals is the ability to really focus on the emotions and how we convey them through our faces, which is not usually something we have a lot of time to focus on. The cast has really seemed thankful that we are continuing this process and that our weekly rehearsals are a time to get together with our theater family to reconnect.”

As for encouraging the return of Little Women, Well and other productions, Treadway says that while “money is easiest way to help out,” the next best thing theatergoers can do is hold on to tickets they’ve purchased to canceled or rescheduled shows. Donations of household items are also welcome, as theaters across the country are currently reorganizing their prop and costume storage holdings in preparation for the traditionally busy summer season.

Treadway also sees a parallel between current hardships and the New York City theater community post-9/11, during which “everybody pulled together.” Combine that track record of resilience with “people who know how to stretch a buck like no other business” and theatergoers’ “hunger to get back out and be entertained,” and the veteran actor is optimistic about the future.

“In other economic downturns, the thing that did not come along with it was the fact that we had to put ourselves into our own personal jails at home,” Treadway says. “If anything, I think people are going to get sick to death of streaming and the options on the computer, and they’re just going to want human interaction. And I think in some ways, hopefully, there may be just a desperate desire to get back out there into a more socially entertaining world.”


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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