Live Theater Returns to New Haven Venues
Almost a year and a half after the curtain went down in theaters all over the country, the lights are finally turning back on for live theater in New Haven and beyond. From Hopkins’ very own Drama Association (HDA) productions in Lovell Hall, to the Shubert and Long Wharf theaters in downtown New Haven, to Broadway in New York City, actors are once again experiencing their first standing ovations and audiences are attempting to figure out if and when they should clap after a song ends.
As well as returning to these sanctuaries of storytelling and creativity as audience members, New Haven students can now take advantage of the high school theater programs on offer.
The return to theater has produced intense emotions for cast, crew, and audience members alike. Anthony McDonald, the vice president of the Shubert Theater remarked that “the energy within the theater community has been both excited and nervous for this return. Excited to finally get people back in the building to have memorable, fun experiences. Nervous because we don’t know if our audience is ready to come back. In reality, some of our shows are definitely going to have a smaller than normal audience, but we are undeterred. We will be presenting our shows, as of right now, we are not cancelling anything because ‘the show must go on.’” He also expressed that he and his staff are even more passionate than usual
about their work after being separated from it for so long: “Theater is our life so not having it for so long was a weird experience....the excitement to get the theater ready to receive an audience is exhilarating!”
From the perspective of an actor, Daniela Rodriguez-Larrain ‘23, a member of HDA, said “Live theatre is so important because, as a performer, having a live audience completely changes the dynamics of a performance. When we were fully online at the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t able to put on performances with a live audience and it was really difficult during Zoom performances to gauge if the audience was enjoying the show. Being able to hear the audience laughing after a joke or applauding after a good scene is so incredibly gratifying as it shows that the audience is enjoying the show, which means that all of the hard effort you’ve put into the production is paying off.” She also remarked on how the live experience strengthens the friendships among the cast. “Cast members spend so much time hanging out together backstage, during rehearsals, or even while getting food after performances,” said Rodriguez-Larrain, “After the shows are over, you really find that you’ve formed strong bonds amongst your castmates.”
Kate Moore Heaney, an Artistic Associate-Literary at Long Wharf, agreed that there is palpable excitement within the theater community, along with a continuing movement to make theater more accessible and equitable: “I think there’s a little bit of trepidation as we go back. There’s a question around, did we take this pause and actually take the time to do what we needed to do in terms of changes that needed to be made in the theater community and the larger ways that we as an industry address a lot of the inequities that exist and continue to exist. So I think it’s a combination of both excitement and sort of questioning around how we move forward taking that with us.”
At the Shubert Theater, Covid has not had any effect on the volume of show offerings, but a few adjustments have been necessary at the Long Wharf Theater. McDonald said, “This year we will be presenting a slew of shows, including Beautiful
in January, Waitress
in March, An American in Paris
in May and Hairspray
in June.” According to Cheyenne Barboza, the Community Partnerships and Literary Associate at Long Wharf, “We have fewer performances, but not by much. We’ve unfortunately had to cut our student matinees, as every school is doing something different with their Covid policy.” Long Wharf is producing Fires in the Mirror
, Dream Hou$e
, and Queen
, among others.
Covid has also impacted audience response to current shows, the format of current shows, and how new shows are written. Moore Heaney noted that “in this period of pause, so many artists were inspired by this moment and cultivated many pieces that are in response to, or directly inspired by this moment. So I think we will see a trend in the theater community at large of a greater volume of pieces being produced.” Barboza observed that audience response to The China Lady was affected by events that occurred over the pandemic: “While the show was already slated to happen right before the pandemic began, because of the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence during this time, the play resonates in different ways for
audience members.” Additionally, the format of The China Lady had to be redone entirely due to the social distancing necessitated by the pandemic: “The production was originally designed for a 200-seat black box theater, but had to be moved to our main 408-seat theater, so the creative team had to reimagine the entire set while maintaining the integrity and intention of the design, which was an exciting challenge.”
The shadow of Covid is still evident in the theater-going experience. Masks are required for audience members in accordance with New Haven mandates, as well as vaccination or a negative Covid test. Long Wharf Theater will no longer open their full-service bar with drinks and snacks, and will open the theater only thirty minutes prior to the show. Barboza remarked that “pre-Covid, however early you came, you were hanging out in the lobby, talking and getting your drinks until the house opened. But now we are coordinating the building to open to the public at the same time as the house is open, so you go right to your seat. There’s no mingling and mixing around, which is unfortunate because theater is a communal activity.”
In addition to hosting performances again, these two theaters have also resumed their program offerings for high-school students. At the Shubert, the Shubert Sophomores program, which began in 2019 with a grant from the DeLuca Foundation, is now available. McDonald explained that “the Shubert Sophomores program promises $10 tickets for all New Haven tenth graders and a chaperone to see a Broadway performance” (for ticket information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org). Long Wharf currently has two programs for high schoolers on offer: the Next Narrative monologue competition and the Stage Squad program. The national monologue competition “celebrates the work of contemporary black playwrights who are creating a canon of work of monologues. It is run by True Colors theater in Atlanta, and the finals are performed on a professional stage in New York. The finalists usually get to see a Broadway show and connect with other high schoolers across the country who love theater, in addition to a cash prize,” says Moore Heaney. The Stage Squad is unique to Long Wharf: “It is a collective of theater artists who have one-on-one interactions with other students that are passionate about theater and are working theater professionals. Eventually, they culminate together in creating their own show by the end of the season. It’s a really cool afterschool program of folks that just wanna create together,” said Barboza.
For current theater lovers and for those just discovering its joys, Hopkins students are welcome to get involved in these programs, and all members of the Hopkins community can watch live theater right on campus at an HDA production, once again being performed in Lovell Hall.