PICTURED: Cast of Electric Barrier. Top row, from left: Juno Azuz Zacher, Zoe Alaniz, Jadzia Winter, Wesley R. Umali. Middle: Emma Garcia, Asher Mitchell, Taetum Naumes, Ella Pickrel. Bottom: Arriana Rodriguez, Quincy McArthur, Kailey Claycamp and Mariah Gruber Screen grab by Hayley Silvers

by Emily Dodi

The news of theater’s demise has been circulating for centuries. There were actual dark spots, to be sure. Namely the Dark Ages. Yet theater adapted and came back. Every single time. Not even the plague (the one that ravaged the world during Shakespeare’s time, that is) could kill it. 

So here we are again. Theaters are dark in the interest of public health, but theater folk are stubborn. They will always find a way to create because it’s more than what they do: It’s who they are.  

In Ventura County, like all over the world, theater companies are reimagining ways to connect with each other and bring art to the people.

One example is Camarillo Skyway Playhouse’s Stage Door Players. The company, whose members range in age from 12 to 19, is led by Libby Baumgartner. The company had several projects underway when the stay-at-home orders came. 

“It’s strange to see something that brings people together disappear overnight,” she says, but the company didn’t waste time in adapting to the new reality.

Eletronic Barrier cast. Top row, from left: Juno Azuz Zacher, Zoe Alaniz, Jadzia Winter, Wesley R. Umali. Middle: Emma Garcia, Asher Mitchell, Taetum Naumes, Ella Pickrel. Bottom: Arriana Rodriguez, Quincy McArthur, Kailey Claycamp and Mariah Gruber Screen grab by Hayley Silvers

It followed in the footsteps of other theaters like The Elite, which recently streamed an online version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and is set to do other digital productions soon (theelite.org). The Stage Door Players wrote and produced Electronic Barrier which was live streamed on July 11 and is available to view on Facebook. (www.facebook.com/CamarilloSkywayPlayhouse/videos/313970523073140/)

Baumgartner asked company members to “write what you need to write.” The result is an illuminating and inspiring reflection on familial tension, isolation, distance learning and conspiracy theories.

The experience of streaming a performance was different, says Baumgartner. “We had no idea who was watching.” Turns out that about a thousand people were. “The kids lit up after their performance. As soon as we were done, one kid said, ‘can we do it again?’” Plans are already underway for their next digital production. Meanwhile, CSP will live stream Trifles on Aug. 8. (skywayplayhouse.org)

Illustration by Michael McCarthy

Another theater company is taking their show on the road. Ojai Valley Artists Theater Ensemble (OVATE) presents Ham & Cheese’s Motley Stew, “a one-of-a-kind traveling comedy variety show coming straight to your yard.” Performances begin in August and can be ordered online starting at the end of July. (ovate.org)  

“We find ways,” says OVATE artistic director Susan Kelejian. “Artists have to create. We have a responsibility to ourselves and the community at large. Art has gotten us through everything.” Kelejian emphasizes that the company is not being cavalier in the midst of COVID-19. 

“We are not taking any chances,” she says, adding that every safety precaution is being taken throughout the artistic process, from rehearsal to performance. The experiment is worth trying. As Kelejian says, “Art is important enough.”  

It is all new territory, for us all. Thankfully, we have theater. There may be bumps and glitches ahead, but if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, someone has to lead the way.