Monitoring bathrooms for social distancing and sanitizing around the clock are not typical tasks for a spotlight operator. Though for Brooke Friedman, a University of Georgia alum and a spotlight operator at Medieval Times, these tasks are a part of her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will clean an hour before a show starts, then I’ll stay in front of the bathrooms and monitor how many guests are allowed in at one time, just to keep up with COVID safety precautions,” Friedman said. “After that, I’ll go up to my spotlight tower, do all of the technical theater stuff and, then after the show, I monitor the bathrooms again and clean everything again.”
Along with Friedman, Rachel Whitsel, a senior theatre major at UGA, said her job working as a stage manager and sound engineer at Athens Creative Theatre changed due to the pandemic.
Before the pandemic started, Whitsel said her role as a stage manager incorporated many moving parts. From calling the sound and lights cues, to moving set pieces on stage, to executing everything that happens during a live performance, Whitsel said her many tasks working as a stage manager have diminished quite extensively.
“We had three shows scheduled for March of 2020, and they all got canceled. Since then, I’ve only worked for one show during all of this,” Whitsel said. “I worked one outdoor show back in October [for ACT]. We did all Zoom rehearsals, we set up an outdoor stage pavilion at the Lyndon House, and did one performance.”
That was the only little bit of theater she did last year, Whitsel said. She had to find another job for a source of income.
Whitsel’s experience is not isolated. Many technical and performative theater jobs have diminished thus changing the lives of individuals working in these fields, according to an article in Backstage, a resource and news platform for performers and entertainment professionals.
As a response to declines in work, many performance venues and theaters started digital programming, including Athens’ Morton Theatre.
The digital stage
According to a World Economic Forum article, the future of many workplaces is going digital, and theaters and performance venues are experiencing this change as well.
Lynn Green, a facility supervisor for the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department and the managing director for the Morton Theatre, said the Morton Theatre has hosted virtual programming and livestream events with no in-person audiences since the beginning of the pandemic.
Green said the Morton Theatre is usually used for a plethora of performances, including plays, concerts, weddings and award ceremonies. She said the space is available for any individual, organization or traveling performer to rent. Before the pandemic, Green said the Morton Theatre was only limited by the imagination of the person renting the stage.
Due to the pandemic, the Morton Theatre has been closed to the public since March 13, and the space is only available to internal ACC Leisure Services events. Moving into a more digital-focused performance space is a way to add outside performers to the Morton Theatre’s stage, Green said.
“We've been able to do small things that don't have audiences at all, and we're hoping to work toward the point where we're going to offer that service to renters,” Green said. “So they can come in and livestream, or come in and record different things on our stage, and be able to serve the community in that manner.”
Green said the future of the live or virtual performances is ultimately going to rest in the hands of audiences.
“I think we're going to end up having to take a lot of cues from audiences to see what it is that they're going to be comfortable doing,” Green said. “And if nothing else, this pandemic has taught us all a bit of patience and definitely being able to be flexible. So [the Morton Theatre] is ready to meet, whatever the reality of the situation is head on.”