This year, instead of walking up the stairs to the theater with a ticket in hand, I clicked an email link and logged on to a Zoom session to watch my high school’s spring musical. It was a notably different experience; I felt strangely aware of my surroundings while sitting in my dining room, yearning for the familiar hum of the orchestra that I knew so well. I was an avid thespian in high school who took every opportunity to be involved in my school’s theater department. Prior to that, my love for theater started when I began performing with a local theater company at eight years old. Suffice it to say, I had absolutely no idea that my final bow on March 7th, 2020 would be my last for the foreseeable future.
There’s nothing in the world that can capture the feeling I got when performing on stage. I grew to love the flutter of butterflies in my stomach as I prepared for my first entrance. My heart swelled at the start of every overture at the top of the first act. I was at my happiest when singing and dancing on stage with a rush of adrenaline pushing me through my choreography.
I miss getting ready with my best friends backstage. I miss practicing flips and tricks during stunt calls and laughing as someone ran down the stairs just in time for mic check. I miss the excitement that comes from sitting in a blackout before the first number. I miss looking out in the crowd and seeing my friends smiling back at me. I miss running out to the roar of the crowd to take a bow and hearing the jingle of the curtains as they closed at the end of each show. I miss the aching feeling in my legs after practicing the same routine for 30 minutes straight in rehearsal. I miss the excitement after perfecting that one vocal run that took weeks of rehearsals. I miss taking the train to New York City and shifting in my seat as the opening number starts. I miss gripping my playbills and craning through the crowd to see my favorite actors at the stage door. I even miss singing with my friends in the hallways when we can’t get that one song out of our heads.
As I’m writing this, I realize that Broadway went dark exactly a year ago. Virtual performances have been all the rage for months, with many making large impacts on the broader community. Virtual theater has given people the opportunity to engage in the arts without having to travel too far or pay too much. I don’t want to go too far and say that Covid has been a blessing in disguise—but it has seriously expanded the accessibility of the theater, music, and entertainment industries.
This doesn’t mean that performing in a post-Covid world has come without its challenges. Cast members are separated from one another, exchanging dialogue via video chat. Singers can’t hear their neighbors next to them, and are forced to tune their sound based on the fluctuating tones of a zoom call. These performances are still awe-inspiring, regardless of the barriers performers have to overcome. But am I wrong in saying it doesn’t feel the same?
My heart gave a pang as I watched my friends take their virtual bows in the musical. I felt a sense of sadness as I stared into a video camera instead of an audience at this fall’s Chamber Singers concert. I’m devastated to think of all of the actors and actresses that have been out of work for a year because of Covid. But, as I write this, I have hope. With the ongoing rollout of vaccines, I’m hopeful that live performances will once again be on our horizon, with performers hearing the roar of the crowd once more (I’m crossing my fingers that I can perform at Kenyon next year!). With hope on the horizon, I’m confident that the curtain will rise once more.