Blank Canvas does Drive-In, Cleveland responds to COVID-19

With record numbers of COVID-19 cases exploding in Ohio (and all over the country), it’s hard to feel any relief. However, Blank Canvas Theatre has created a prescription for the soul that has cured a bit of the frustration that comes along with local lockdowns: drive-in live theater.

With two successful events completed, Blank Canvas’ Artistic Director, Patrick Ciamacco, gives an insight into these two endeavors. The first was the cabaret-style “Still Standing,” presented this past September as a “Live Multimedia, Drive-in Theatre Experience.”

“I knew we could do a show in the parking lot and keep the audience safe. But the trick was always how to keep the actors, musicians, and staff safe. A friend wanted to do a movie viewing for her birthday, but wanted to be safe. So, I arranged for a drive-in style movie showing. While sitting there in the parking lot, looking at the building, creative juices started to flow and the idea came to me,” says Ciamacco.

He also notes, “The oddest part for me was to be directing actors through glass, 15-feet below. I am sure for the actors it was singing in front of a window. And the way the light reflects inside it created a reflection of themselves in front of them. So, often it was like they were singing to themselves.”

“We were probably one of the few live performances happening in this country. The energy that weekend was healing and powerful. Something I will never forget for a long time. The profound beauty, talent, and strength of our theatre community. The support and the love for live theatre,” he says.

In the past nine months, the United States has responded to closures and shutdowns in many inspired ways. Creatives in educational institutions, as well as professional and community theaters are embracing new ways to express their art, even if it’s not in the traditional sense.

Michael Paulson of The New York Times writes in his July 4, 2020 article entitled “Beyond Broadway, the Show Does Go On:”

Inside a former firehouse in Richmond, Va., a lone actor performs “The Picture of Dorian Gray” for audiences as small as two. In a Denver parking lot, theatergoers in cars watch, through their windshields, four performers costumed as grasshoppers. On a 600-acre property in Arkansas, a cast of about 130 re-enacts the story of Jesus for several hundred ticket-holders spread across a 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater1.

Stories are getting told, and art is being made. With the success of “Still Standing,” the next Blank Canvas Theatre event tapped into the Halloween vibe. “Night of the Living Theatre” was presented at the end of October and early November, and the drive-in extravaganza was expanded to four nights. They also added large, live-feed concert screens for closeups of each soloist that played alongside the normal projection design. Audiences responded. But the future is uncertain, and no one really knows what’s next.

“I was lucky to have a great staff and cast to help support the vision. We actually streamlined everything and it was super smooth. So the first event was just to see if we could do it and do it safe. Since that worked we are making some additions to the design to make the event even more enjoyable for the audience,” says Ciamacco.

He notes that “with Cleveland weather being unpredictable, we are looking to see how this late fall show goes. We are hoping to bring a Holiday show to our audience this December!”

And the rest of Cleveland – what else are local institutions doing to keep theater alive? Platforms such as Zoom, YouTube, and others are becoming hubs for live-streamed and pre-recorded performances. Even local colleges have kept education going for their students in the Arts by showing performances presented with actors segmented off behind plexiglass, or broadcasting from various locations.

Cleveland State University Department of Theatre and Dance recently produced and live-streamed Dominique Morisseau’s “Blood at the Root” in a plexiglass divider stage format. Baldwin Wallace University’s Theatre & Dance Department will present virtual performances of “Spring Awakening” November 19-22, 2020. Case Western Reserve University Department of Theater is now virtually running “20/20 (hindsight), A play,” where students are performing original monologues, poems, and dances reflecting on their experiences with the COVID-19 shut down.

Outside of the college experience, local theatres from the Cleveland Play House to Dobama Theatre, along with Cleveland Public Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, Talespinner Children’s Theatre, and more are all pushing the boundaries of what a typical theatre experience is like. All are finding new ways to bring performances, classes, workshops, readings, and more to the community. Blank Canvas Theatre will continue to make art, as well.

Ciamacco speaks for all of the Arts organizations when he notes the main challenge. “Theaters around Cleveland are struggling to keep our doors open. Any contribution helps. So please donate and help your favorite theater. They all need it!” With your help, our cultural institutions can stay open and continue to serve not only during the pandemic, but after.

Stay tuned for more information about upcoming events at Blank Canvas Theatre – here’s to rooting for a Holiday show! To DONATE to Blank Canvas Theatre, CLICK HERE.

Photos courtesy Blank Canvas Theatre – “Still Standing”

1 Paulson, M. Beyond Broadway, the Show Does Go On. The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/04/theater/theaters-persevere-in-pandemic.html.

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