The Brave New World of theatre reinvention

And how the Pandemic provides hidden opportunity

One of the positives of lockdown is the way theatre is reinventing itself.

While theatre has taken a big blow due to the pandemic, it is also employing the very skills it employs to create art, to reinvent itself.

Actors and producers all over the world are using new mediums like Zoom to reach new audiences all over the world, giving patrons a theatrical experience without being in an actual theatre.

Brave New World Repertory Company in Brooklyn, NYC, is one such example that I was lucky enough to be involved with recently.

Devised by Artistic Director Claire Beckman, in partnership with guest artists Sandra Bargman, Leslie Ellis and Laura Patinkin, Brave New World presented 18 monologues by women over 55 from all over America (and one in Australia!) – and one man – in zoom theatre on August 26.

Monologues were the perfect choice, as no awkward social-distancing scene blocking was required.

The project, titled Over and Above: Women Over 55 Speak invited women (and trans women) and men (and trans men) to write on the theme of American Women Over 55.

Seventy invitations were sent, 55 received and 18 included, so it was very exciting and humbling to be included.

Each monologue was delivered by talented and passionate actors, and the written work was shared between writers.

The result was a stunning collection of work that revealed a diverse range of issues and emotions facing older women in America today.

While there was a common theme, each approach was different. Some were delivered with humour, pathos and sometimes rage – or all three.

In a world when many producers and funding bodies are seeking the voices of the young, this was a refreshing opportunity. The young have energy and ideas, but the old have wisdom and experience, which often ignored in today’s youth-obsessed culture.

If you’re wondering how I got involved, here’s a tip: send your work everywhere. You never know who might get in touch.

I frequently trawl through Play Submissions Helper, looking for opportunities.

Using PSH, I sent a play to Brave New World earlier in the year, and while the play was not suitable, they liked the writing. 

Months later, I receive an email asking how old I was, and whether I would like to submit. For the first time, it was a bonus to be a woman over 55.

There was no guarantee that my submission would be accepted, and that’s normal when you send your work out. It’s a bit like a pamphlet drop – you can really only expect a one-per cent return.  

Getting used to rejection is part of being an artist, whatever your medium. There are many excellent writers and few excellent opportunities. 

It makes acceptance all the sweeter, so I was chuffed when both my monologues, Something Different and The Last Minute, were accepted.

It was a wonderful experience to see them performed so beautifully by Leslie Ellis (directed by Sandra Bargman) and Caroline Ryburn (directed by Laura Patinkin.  We writers were also invited to watch the rehearsal, which is always a privilege, as it provides an opportunity to learn and improve.

My advice to fellow writers is to look for opportunity, and don’t be afraid of rejection. Follow the example of Brave New World and look for new ways to present your work and reach new audiences.

The pandemic has brought many artists and theatres to the brink, and we need to continue to lobby governments to support the arts as an essential service, just as it supports other industries.  After all, it is the arts that is sustaining us all now, via movies, books and virtual theatre.

But there are also new opportunities, as Claire Beckman, and many other creative artists are now proving.

As an actor friend said recently: “I’ve seen more theatre in the past six months than I’ve seen in years.”

Whereas in the past, she would have to factor in a long drive, parking, and coming home late in the dark (with the added risk in country Victoria of hitting a kangaroo!), she is now enjoying theatre from all over the world the comfort of her own home.