“Theater by its very nature sort of needs the gathering of humans together to make it work,” says Ground Floor Theatre co-artistic director Lisa Scheps. “And so, as theater artists, we have got to, during this time, find other ways to create that same magic without having people physically with us.”
Like many local theatre companies, Ground Floor has quickly established an online presence to stay connected to their audience and to each other, finding ways to create theater without going to the theater itself and without even being in the same room as each other. They’ve started creating online readings (sort of like staged readings, but without an actual stage) of existing plays and new works.
“We had a our very first one last Sunday, with Rita Anderson’s The 27 Club, and it was an experiment,” Scheps says. “And it was a success – it worked really well. Surprisingly well.”
Scheps says the videoconferencing app Zoom lends itself pretty well to theater readings.
“The system automatically switches to the person who’s speaking, so we get to see the actors as they’re speaking, and it worked real well,” she says.
Patti Neff-Tiven, Ground Floor’s other co-artistic director, is using these unusual circumstances to create a project she’s been thinking about for a while: Waiting for Godot With Cats.
“It started as an idea several, several years ago,” she says. “[A friend and I] saw a show at Frontera Fest where a guy did a one-man show with his dog, and we said ‘You know what would make this better? Cats!’”
Neff-Tiven decided that Waiting for Godot would be the perfect play to perform with a room full of cats, but the idea existed mostly as a private joke until the shelter-in-place order changed the way theater is performed for the foreseeable future.
“When we got shut down … we started talking about [how] everything’s going to have to go digital,” she says. “All the theater companies are putting out this artistic output that I’m calling 'The Covid Canon.’ This is the perfect time to do the Waiting for Godot With Cats I’ve always wanted to do.”
She says the one-woman (and four-cat) show will be pretty much what the name implies — Neff-Tiven performing a solo version of Beckett's play while surrounded by her cats, which she's annointed The Los Gatos Repertory Company.
“This is a time that’s really difficult for people in the theater community and the Austin theater community,” Scheps says. “And I do think it’s important to try to bring joy throughout this and work toward having a positive attitude and a positive outcome, which I think it will eventually be. But I do think that when we get out on the other end of this, the theater community and the community at large is going to be very different, permanently.
“We [in the theater community] have made connections in ways that we aren’t accustomed to making connections, we are creating theater in ways that we are not accustomed to creating theater, and I think this mark on our artistic ethos and our general way of living is going to be permanently changed by this. Nobody’s gone through this before in my lifetime, and I’m old.”
Ground Floor Theatre’s next reading will be The Ballad of Robert E. Lee by Casandra Rose. Patti Neff-Tiven’s Waiting for Godot With Cats will be coming to a computer near you soon. More information and links to Ground Floor’s live and archived theater video is on their website and facebook page.