Safety is key as area’s first full-scale theatre production opens

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — As the pandemic forces theaters across the globe to go dark, organizers here have decided the show must go on.

WaterFire is teaming up with The Wilbury Theatre Group for a production called Decameron Providence.

“This shared experience of gathering for storytelling is something that people all over the world love to do, and we’ve deprived ourselves of that for the last few months,” said Josh Short, artistic director of The Wilbury Theatre Group. “And I think it’s just a welcome relief, like a breath of fresh air.”

Literal fresh air: the performances are being held outdoors on WaterFire’s Providence campus in the name of safety.

“How do you recreate theatre and art in an exciting way that’s absolutely safe?” asked Barnaby Evans, the artistic director of WaterFire. “The most critical thing here, object one, is how to be safe.”

Organizers worked with a Brown University epidemiologist on the protocols: Audience members are screened using a medical questionnaire, and are kept in the same group of 10 to 15 people — wearing masks — as they travel around to a series of 20-minute performances. They are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs or rent them.

Circles on the ground indicate where audience members should place their seats in order to be socially-distanced and enjoy the performance.

Those performances include live music, poetry, and dance, some touching on themes from the Bubonic plague and the 1918 pandemic, hoping to provide lessons on how to live through our current struggles.

“It’s interesting to kind of explore this idea that there are messages from the past that we can use today,” said April Brown of Langston Hughes Community Poetry, which has youth performers participating.

“How we can safely use art as a prism to better understand where we are today?” Evans said. “There’s a lot we need to talk about, including COVID. And art is a great lens for having that conversation.”

That’s even if that conversation is happening from six feet away.

“For us to say we have a way to gather people together to make this art happen, and to do it safely, I think everybody was just grateful to see that happen,” Short said.

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