The Show Must Go On

Supporting the performing arts from the comfort of home.

Photo courtesy Virginia Stage Company.

When a theater closes its stage for the night, the last person out leaves one light burning. The tradition, known as a “ghost light,” was historically for safety purposes and to appease the “ghosts” of the theater’s past. Today, with the world in crisis and theater doors closed, theater companies around the state are now calling their ghost lights symbols for audiences that the theater is waiting for their return.

From his home kitchen, Nathaniel Shaw, artistic director of Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, spoke to local patrons on the theater’s YouTube channel. “What I miss most about the theater is the people,” Shaw says in the video. “I miss the whole human interaction of what we do.”

In other areas of the state, actors are shifting their practice to bring as much of a live theatre experience into people’s homes as possible. This includes pre-recorded and live performances–both on stage and even from their own living rooms. 

“Performing artists and independent creative directors, choreographers, and designers are very nimble! They are used to going from job to job at different theaters and putting multiple jobs together to make careers in this field, so already we’ve seen them pivot to offering living room play readings and songs online, classes taught over Zoom/Skype, and more,” says Jen Buzzell, director of marketing for Signature Theatre in Arlington.

ASC staff Sky Wilson and Dan Hasse along with Zan Gillies of Deep Structure work on live-streaming MIDSUMMER 90 on March 22. Photo courtesy the American Shakespeare Center.

At the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, a group of local volunteer filmmakers worked with the center’s staff and performers to transform the 16th century playhouse into a 21st century soundstage, just before they expected to close. The group filmed seven performances involving two troupes of actors in just five days. The result? BlkFrsTV, a streaming service where theatre patrons can purchase tickets to watch the performances at home. 

The editing process of MIDSUMMER 90 for BlkFrsTV. Photo courtesy of Ashby Wratchford of Paladin Media Group.

“All of the interactions we have had with our audiences online–through streaming with BlkFrsTV and many social media conversations–have helped us remain connected to our community and let us know we’re not alone. Our community is our light in these crazy times,” says artistic director Ethan McSweeny.

While the power of a live theater experience is impossible right now, these organizations are working hard to stay afloat and provide inspiration to people across the state. “We have a basic human need to come together–to breathe the same air and share the same space. As we all become more expert at navigating and consuming digital content, it is clear that this is a placeholder, not a substitute,” says Tom Quaintance, producing artistic director at Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk.

To stay in touch, the theater’s staff has a closed Facebook group, where they share everything from “resources available to artists and tips for managing the federal relief packages to recipes for ‘adult frozen grapes.’” The staff also joins together for Zoom watch parties of world class theatre available online.

“We are learning great lessons about how digital content can broaden our reach, but the need for live human interaction will remain at the core of our future work, and we eagerly anticipate the moment we are once again able to get artists and audiences in the same room together.”


Keeping The Lights On

Here’s how you can help local theaters from home.

Virginia Repertory Theatre, Richmond

Signature Theatre, Arlington

  • Current ticket holders can exchange their ticket for any future performance on sale or a Signature Gift Certificate; donate their ticket back to the theater for a tax receipt, or leave their ticket as-is to view a high-quality pre-recorded video of the production online.
  • Donate directly to the theater.
  • Purchase gift certificates.
  • Attend a virtual masterclass.
  • Chat with theatre professionals, participate in trivia games, and watch performances during the all new Facebook Live series, “Signature Strong – Live!” on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 p.m.

Virginia Stage Company, Norfolk

  • Current ticket holders can turn their ticket into a tax deductible donation.
  • Donate directly to the theater.
  • Subscribe for a season membership.
  • Attend classes through the theater’s Virtual Stage.

American Shakespeare Center, Staunton

Swift Creek Mill Theatre, Colonial Heights

Barter Theatre, Abingdon

  • Current ticket holders can turn their ticket into a tax deductible donation or exchange tickets for a future performance.
  • Stream shows through Barter On Demand.
  • Purchase gift certificates.
  • Donate directly to the theater.

Ashland Theatre, Ashland

Firehouse Theatre, Richmond

  • Donate directly to the theater.

Is there someone we missed? Let us know by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Supporting Theaters.”

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