Performing during a pandemic means pivoting to nontraditional platforms for most arts organizations. Ballet, opera, and symphony events have gone digital, bringing art streaming directly into people’s homes. Catastrophic Theatre did them one better by bringing actual performers to folks’ driveways and backyards—socially distanced, of course.
Catastrophic’s Drama Squad, an intimate group of traveling performers, brought original content—dancing, puppet shows, and comedy—to backyards throughout the city. It was so popular that Catastrophic will deploy the Squad with all-new material (including a twisted clown) from September 24 through October 17.
“We are determined to make the shows accessible to more people,” says theater co-founder Tamarie Cooper, “while allowing for social distancing along with other safety protocols such as mask wearing. The shows will still be performed in outdoor spaces, but this time we are focusing on outdoor venues for up to 50 people. That will open up viewing opportunities to more people, while still maintaining the intimate nature of the show. We are currently considering some very unique outside-of-the box performance venues.”
Abraham Zapata, content creator for Drama Squad and one of the show’s three LGBTQ performers, found the experience very different than anything he’d done before. “It’s been such a rewarding and completely unique experience. As an artist, it’s been such an honor to have your work be immediately produced and performed, especially on such an intimate scale where audiences are so invested and eager to attend a performance. And it’s been challenging in that you have to so immediately adapt to the conditions of the space—someone’s yard, garden, on the curb with onlookers, in direct sunlight—you never know what the moment holds, so that makes it all the more challenging and rewarding.”
“There’s just something beautiful and wonderful about individuals from different backgrounds coming together to participate in a live, shared experience.”
Scott Lupton, another gay performer and the Squad’s stage manager, misses Catastrophic’s in-theater experience. “Everything—the audience, the energy, the collaboration, the craftsmanship of all the technical elements, the story-telling, the music—everything!” But he still believes the traveling Drama Squad has been a godsend. “The experience thus far has been incredible!” Hot, but incredible. Getting the opportunity to bring live theater to audiences is such a beautiful gift—for us, and, I believe, for the audiences we perform for.”
Out performer Greg Dean recently joined the Drama Squad for its fall tour, but he saw all the previous performances, which he likened to finding “water in the desert” during a pandemic. “Throughout almost the entirety of the pandemic, I’ve been completely absorbed by directing two films—one for The Catastrophic Theatre, and the other for Mildred’s Umbrella. Now that things have slowed down for me, I cannot wait for that feedback loop of energy connecting performer and audience. When things are going well, it’s one of the best feelings.”
The company’s ticketing policy for its Drama Squad events is as casual as its performance venues. “All tickets will be Pay-What-You-Can,” Cooper notes. “We never want someone to miss the opportunity to see our shows because of a financial barrier.”
And as far as in-person theater goes, she’s optimistic. “We are hopeful it will be safe to return to our intimate indoor theater space soon, but we’ll continue to respond to the state of the pandemic as we determine programming,” she says.
Zapata is also looking forward to a return to Catastrophic’s home base. “What I miss most is the sense of community. There’s just something beautiful and wonderful about individuals from different backgrounds coming together to participate in a live, shared experience. Even the most reclusive of us enjoys a good story, and craves participating in a communal experience. I look forward to a time when we can do so again safely.”
For more info, visit catastrophictheatre.com.