By Mark Dreisonstok
Theatres in the Washington, D.C. area, the U.S. and abroad are closed due to social distancing regulations brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Many venues have responded by streaming previous performances via the Internet, creating new performances with actors in different locations via Zoom and moving to podcast formats, and occasionally having productions for small audiences. Thus, the established theatre and acting community is doing its best to adapt.
But how does the Covid-19 era bode for an actor just starting out? Charles Workmaster, a native of Falls Church studying theatre at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, is experiencing this now. A graduate of the District’s Gonzaga College High School, Workmaster first performed in elementary school musicals at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church at the age of six. At his middle school, Rivendell School in Arlington, he performed as the title character of Julius Caesar. These early steps led him to pursue a career in acting.
Workmaster has already had some exceptional experiences. “Spring Awakening,” a musical about the trials of youth sexuality in Wilhelmine Germany, has been performed numerous times recently in the D.C., region. Yet few American actors have performed in the original Frank Wedekind play in Wedekind’s native Germany. Workmaster acted in an English-language production of the play at the Theater Bonn, in Bonn, Germany.
However, after this promising start, Workmaster now faces a performance world governed by Covid-19. Performing artists have had to adjust how they reach their audiences while maintaining social distancing. Under normal circumstances, he would have the opportunity to audition and perform live, or perhaps work on sets. He is now taking acting classes online and will perform in Loyola Marymount’s adaptation of “Lysistrata” by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, in a Zoom production of the play in November. Due to social distancing measures, the actors will be performing “Lysistrata” from their homes.
Workmaster explained that he’s had to make a few adjustments since it’s his first time performing in this medium. For instance, in order for him to make it appear that he’s looking at his scene partner, he has to look directly into the camera rather than his partner’s face. Pacing is also very different over Zoom, as any little pause is stretched out. And the way Workmaster uses the space he’s in is also different since he’ll have to be conscious of what’s visible on-camera and when to project or lower his voice depending on where he is.
“However, for every challenge, there is also an opportunity to get creative,” Workmaster said. “To make sure our production isn’t just a box of talking heads, our production of Lysistrata will incorporate puppetry. The puppets with the actors’ faces will make up the throng of Athenians and Spartans in the background as we cannot have an ensemble. In some instances, the scene will start with puppets that represent the actors before we come on the screen ourselves. I think this will add to the comedy of a show that is already ridiculous and farcical.”
In addition to adjusting to an online format for classes and performances, Workmaster is also in the process of launching his acting career by filming self-tapes and networking from home instead of auditioning in person. While he has many experiences acting in roles by classic playwrights, Workmaster is also starring as the protagonist in Roar Studios’ production “Michael Needs a Date to Formal” where he will play an awkward guy trying to land a date for his first college formal. Again due to the virus, the release of the show has been delayed.
Of course, more established actors are experiencing the same issue. British stage and voice actor David Ault told the News-Press that theatres in the United Kingdom have been closed, and the government has not been as eager to bail them out as they are with banks.
Ault gives a surprisingly American analogy about how actors are dealing with the pandemic, saying that, “Actors rehearse separately with what feels like American football ‘plays.’ Later they are told to move to a certain spot on the stage at a certain cue, in the knowledge that the other actors have been given similar sets of instructions and that the two will intermesh at the appropriate times and come together for a dress rehearsal. Very unnerving, and not altogether a success!”
Another effort to address the effect of Covid-19 on the performing world was Romy Nordlinger’s “NYSEEING 2020” fundraiser this past Wednesday. The star of the recent one-woman show “Places” at the Kennedy Center organized a live streamed fundraiser to benefit regional New York artists this past Wednesday. The event included performances from recent works by some of the top playwrights in the country, who also discussed what is going on in the arts in the face of the continuing pandemic.
For more information on Workmaster’s upcoming performance in “Lysistrata” that will be running from Nov. 11 – 14, visit here.