Capital Region theaters may be shuttered due to COVID-19, but some local actors have found a way to carry on and shake off the boredom that comes with being separated from their theater community.
Quarantine e-Theatre, a Facebook group founded by David Rook, Evan Jones and Brian Sheldon, runs weekly play readings on Zoom, showcasing both local actors and unproduced works by regional playwrights.
During the readings, which take place on Monday evenings, the group also raises money for regional theater companies. Their initial goal was to raise $100 per reading.
“We exceeded the goal within an hour, and then exceeded it again,” Rook said.
So far, Quarantine e-Theatre has raised more than $6,000, including $755 for Confetti Stage, $2,115 for the Albany Civic Theater, $1,975 for the Sand Lake Center for the Arts/Circle Theater Players and $1,318 for the Not So Common Players.
“We didn’t set out on a mission to create something special. We just said ‘This will be fun. Let’s see where it goes,’ ” Jones said.
He’s been involved in local theater for the past seven years, since studying theater at the University at Albany, and said he’s formed many friendships with people in the community.
Sheldon, executive director of the Sand Lake Center for the Arts, has been involved in theater since he went to Schenectady High School and joined the school’s Blue Roses Theatre Company.
Rook, an intellectual property attorney, has been involved in theater on and off over the years. All three have worked together at different local theater companies, including Albany Civic and Schenectady Civic. To suddenly not have that theater community has been challenging, they said.
“We’re extroverts with maybe some introvert tendencies. We get so used to being in a community environment, being around these people all the time, so when that’s stripped away . . . I’m closer to most of these people than I am sometimes with my own family members, so not seeing them and not being about to create with them is a huge burden. Not even a burden, it’s like . . . you’re taking a huge chunk out of who you are,” Sheldon said.
The readings have returned some semblance of that community.
“We bring in a lot of people because of the Zoom setup. If people want, at the beginning they can see each other and hear each other. At the end, when we have the Q&A, a lot of people get to see and hear each other. We also get introduced to new members of the community,” Rook said.
Each reading from playwrights such as Sheldon and Confetti Stage’s Stephen Henel has lasted roughly 20 minutes, with a discussion and a Q&A afterward. Members of the theater benefiting from that night’s reading usually join the meeting as well, even if it’s just to thank the audience members for donating.
The readings have not only shaken off the boredom of quarantine, they’ve also been rewarding experiences.
“As actors and directors, you come out, you say your lines, you hit your blocking, you give your notes and [that’s] a cool feeling. We’re storytelling. That’s what we do. This to me is a completely different high, because it shows that the community is coming to this and throwing support at it, and it’s such a cool feeling,” Sheldon said.
Although the group has held the readings for the past four or five weeks, they’re still surprised at how much the community has been donating.
“I thought people were going to be throwing a buck or two at us because I thought people were doing what I’m doing, which is hoarding every cent I have in case the time comes. So . . . it’s super-joyous. I can’t believe that we’re doing this,” Sheldon said.
The next reading, which starts Monday at 8 p.m., will be “Would You Like Franz Listz With That?” by James Alexander. It will be the group’s first full-length play reading, clocking in around 90 minutes. They’ll be raising money for the Schenectady Light Opera Company.
“We’re expecting a huge turnout. . . . They’re kind of the ‘juggernaut’ of community theater. They’ve been selling out their shows three straight seasons every production they have,” Sheldon said.
When asked if they’ll continue the readings even after theaters open back up, Jones said: “We have no expenses, so this could go on as long as we have scripts and as long as we just don’t get lazy. We’d like to do it once a week during this lockdown and then we’d like to do it after the lockdown, but maybe not once each week, maybe once every other week. As long as we’re getting scripts and we have actors to read them, that’s all we need.”
“We want our community to know that theater, although we can’t go into the buildings together, is alive and well. We’re going to create theater. I think it’s very important to do so,” Sheldon said.
For information about Quarantine e-Theatre or to join in for Monday’s reading, visit Quarantine e-Theatre on Facebook.