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Shaking up programming: Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival addresses the pandemic and racism on the stage

Shaking up programming: Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival addresses the pandemic and racism on the stage

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The Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival is excited for their long-awaited return to the stage, and in light of COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protest sweeping the country, theater-goers can expect a few important changes to the company’s existing programming.  

“We hear the pain from our fellow artists who have experienced racism on the micro and macro level, and we are working very hard to address the individual and systemic racism that is omnipresent in the theatre industry and how we at FlagShakes can do better,” FlagShakes Executive Director Dawn Tucker stated in a press release.

In an effort to bolster its commitment to diversity Flagshakes outlined several concrete steps including incorporating more inclusive language with regards to casting calls, featuring more work by diverse playwrights and a commitment for staff to attend workshops and webinars addressing racism in the theater industry.

Members of FlagShakes clearly  outlined that these measures were by “no means part of a finite checklist, but rather, part of an ongoing process in keeping us accountable by continuing to ensure that our company is more inclusive and provides a safe space for our employees and independent contractors.”

“We’ve really realized that there is so much work to do, so much to learn, from both COVID and BLM,” Tucker said. 

With regards to the performance schedule for the remainder of the year, ticket holders can expect a few notable changes with regards to social distancing and virtual productions. 

The revised schedule will include Spoon River Anthology filmed at Riordan Mansion for July and August, virtual performances of As You Like It from September 12 through 27, A Lie of the Mind live at Coconino Center for the Arts November 13 and 14 as well as live productions of Twelfth Night on December 11 through 20 also at CCA. 

Hamlet and Comedy of Errors have been postponed until the summer 2021 with She Stoops to Conquer and A Christmas Carol being cancelled.  

Each of the aforementioned 2020 performances will be available digitally, with audience members welcome to choose whichever mode of viewing suits them best.

The virtual viewing experiences and safety measures have also brought unforeseen opportunities to FlagShakes.

“We’re excited about how [virtual viewing] will change the theatre experience, how this will change content and effect access,” Tucker said. “I mean, don’t most people already have access to movies? But we’re mostly interested in, what I am interested in is what theater can accomplish that film can’t.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also inspired many creative solutions for the shows.

As You Like It will be released through episodes featuring a fully digital cast, with actors filming separately in their own spaces. For that our director was inspired to create a massive online role playing game as the world that these characters will exist in, like a 1994-style 16-bit Nintendo world,” Tucker said.

The first show of the season, Spoon River Anthology also presented the unique possibility of filming throughout the historic Riordan Mansion.

“I’ve always been obsessed with the [Riordan] Mansion since I was a girl, it’s so enchanting, and to be able to film in each room and go in all of those formerly roped off areas was just magical,” Tucker said. 

For live, in-person performances FlagShakes will be implementing rigorous cleaning and sanitizing measures, limiting audience sizes to 50 or fewer including actors and crew, administering 6-foot distancing among non-cohabitating patrons and requiring patrons to wear masks as well as having homemade masks available for sale. 

“I think that probably this shaking up of our lives, this idea that we couldn’t keep doing what we've always been doing, I think that has led to a lot of this, especially the BLM movement,” Tucker said. “We all like to think of ourselves as a little more liberal, a little more accepting [in theatre] but as an industry we have the same deep systemic issues as the rest of the world and that has been really humbling. Wherever the pandemic has shaken up our idea of the normal, that is the positive affect.”





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