After spending the majority of our days staring at screens, especially in the time of COVID-19, many of us find ourselves counting down to when we are finally able to log off. Feeling screen fatigued, which occurs when you have been exposed to screens for a long period of time, can result in strained eye muscles, neck and shoulder discomfort, poor posture, and even painful headaches. It's a harsh reality of this new digital age. However, there are benefits to revisiting your screen to experience the arts.
As a busy college student, I frequently experience screen fatigue. Despite this, I've learned the arts can help reduce stress and leave me feeling refreshed, even if I’m watching through a screen. With this in mind, I encourage anyone and everyone to make an effort to support the theatre industry as artists and producers work to present their content in a new, virtual format.
Eastern Michigan University alumnus Michael Page, who currently works as the General Manager of The Old Globe in San Diego, CA, and Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) in Brooklyn, NY, offered his opinion on why we should support the arts during this time.
"I'm the first to agree that the virtual programming at the two theatres I work for, and all of my colleagues across the country are doing, is not as exciting as it would be in person, and it definitely is a compromise," Page said. “But, it is doing something."
Even with this new format, Page still believes there are benefits to audience members who take the time to partake in these events. Whether their intention is to escape the real world or learn something new, the arts provide a space for all of this. It is also worth mentioning that, if anything, supporting the arts through a donation as small as $5 can make a major difference to the organizations struggling to stay afloat during this challenging time.
"Even though there is a lot of screen fatigue going on, people should try to budget their attention spans and their energy to allow for this time, and I think they will,” Page said.
Page is also a Presidential Appointment on the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) Board, which collectively bargains with the unions on behalf of all the union theatres across the country. According to him there are about 82 member theatres within LORT, whose collective budgets have all decreased by 50% on average.
"In this contraction, there have been hundreds if not thousands of theatre workers who have lost their jobs, not to mention the artists who the theatres employ, [who] have no opportunity,” Page said.
Supporting the arts helps to provide at least some of these missing opportunities, as well as ensure that theatres will be able to reopen their doors post-pandemic.
Pamela Cardell Cato, who is the Managing Assistant Director of EMU Theatre, also agrees that people should be supporting the arts in this new setting.
"If people stop and reflect on what they turned to at the beginning of the crisis, it was the arts in some way, shape, or form,” Cato said.
Now, she hopes people will continue with their support as the arts community works to “pivot” and adapt to this temporary normal.
Right here at Eastern Michigan University, EMU Theatre has reconstructed their Fall 2020 season to allow them to put out shows, while still adhering to university safety guidelines. Nearly every aspect of their usual production process has been altered, including the shows themselves that were originally announced earlier this year.
This semester's productions now include "#Matter" & "Black Flag," two short plays by Idris Goodwin, "Richard III" by William Shakespeare, and "In My Shoes: A Musical Revue," which will focus on social justice in our contemporary world. These shows will all be presented in a virtual format.
Dustin D. Miller, EMU Theatre's new Technical Director, explained just how they are making these productions happen without the ability to bring everyone on the production team into one space.
Through the use of various technological devices and platforms, Miller says "It is allowing [the theatre] to organize the entire production in one location, and allows the ability for designers, directors, and other staff to work remotely," thus minimizing the amount of people present in the same space.
Classrooms in the basement of the theatre building have been reconfigured to allow for six recording studios, complete with wireless microphones, webcams, and green screen light kits. After several weeks of rehearsing online, actors and select crew members will be allowed into the building to record isolated scenes that will later be edited together into one video and streamed live for audiences. In many ways, these performers are having to adapt and learn more about creating films, rather than the usual practices of in-person, live productions.
There are arts events happening virtually throughout our community, from here on EMU's campus, to local organizations around Michigan, to some of the largest theatre institutions in the nation and world. I urge you to find space for art experiences. The benefits outweigh the additional screen time.
For more information on EMU Theatre's Fall 2020 season, please visit their website at https://www.emich.edu/cmta/productions/current-season/index.php.