Cleveland-area playwrights George Brant, Eric Coble and Lisa Langford described their writing and inspiration struggles in the theater industry shut down by COVID-19, as well as their predictions for the future of theater during a virtual panel event hosted by the Cleveland Jewish News March 18.
The event, “An Evening with Bob Abelman,” was moderated by Bob Abelman, CJN arts and entertainment columnist. About 120 people registered to attend the free event.
Asking how the three local playwrights were doing in this time of COVID-19, Abelman joked William Shakespeare wrote four of his most influential plays during the Black Plague.
While the beginning of the pandemic served as a brief period of inspiration for Brant, Coble and Langford, that inner fire quickly died out as COVID-19 persisted over the year.
“There was a one-week period where (productions, script readings and plans) just stopped, which is a really fast break on the automobile of theater,” said Coble, writer of “The Velocity of Autumn.” “... That’s a strange place to be as a creator, to just see it all vanish before your eyes.”
The three turned to online content released by theater companies across the nation to allow them to take in some aspect of theater. But similar to the short-lived creative desire at the start of the pandemic, theater companies’ content also started to dwindle as time dragged on.
“(The online content) was just fascinating, I loved it and I wrote a lot back then,” said Langford, writer of “Rastus and Hattie.” “But they’re not doing it anymore. ... Then I started to notice that I was procrastinating. I don’t (usually) procrastinate, but the one thing I procrastinate on is writing phrase. I know what’s next and the plan I’m working on now, but why am I not writing it? I don’t know.”
Brant described the pandemic as “a pretty paralyzing time” for original play ideas due to the grave emotional impacts and the creation of a universal experience.
“With my work and I think most people’s work, you’re trying to find something that an audience hasn’t seen before, hasn’t ever thought about in that way or hasn’t ever experienced,” said Brant, writer of “Grounded.” “It’s hard with this because this is one of those rare moments where the entire world is going through the same thing, to a certain extent.”
Throughout this time of creative difficulty, the playwrights have turned to other profitable means to keep busy, like dabbling in television, novel and Zoom writing, rewriting screenplays and doing research.
The three playwrights said they attempted virtual aspects of theater, like Zoom monologues, workshops and plays acted over a video call.
Even though theaters have been closed since the pandemic’s start one year ago, the upcoming months beckon a release of COVID-19’s deadly grasp. Playhouse Square in Cleveland announced it will make its return to live, in-person performances in June with “The Choir of Man.”
Brant, Coble and Langford agreed that while the virtual aspect of theater is necessary in today’s world, it won’t replace the experience of seeing a live performance in person.
“I don’t think we’re going to close theater so we can do Zoom,” Coble said.