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Cancel culture: Twin Cities theater productions shut down in the wake of COVID-19

Lauren B. Photography

Lauren B. Photography

“It sucks,” says actor Anna Hashizume, a cast member of Theater Latté Da’s La Bohème.

“It’s awful. It’s awful,” says China Brickey, a star of Redwood at the Jungle Theater.

Both of those shows, along with virtually every other play across the Twin Cities, were abruptly postponed after Gov. Tim Walz recommended strong social distancing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Both were set to celebrate their opening weekends.

“With any show, you’re working up to opening,” says Brickey. “For the creative team, it’s like a year or more. For the actors, we’ve been just grinding away for a month.”

“We were sort of at that point where we started looking at each other, going, ‘Wow, we’ve got a pretty great show here,’” says Tim McVean, co-founder of Wayward Theatre Company. Their site-specific The 39 Steps was set to open at the Minnesota Transportation Museum. “To then have to cancel at that point is disheartening.”

For many creators, the cost is not just artistic but financial. “Luckily, with Equity, we get two weeks for pay,” says Brickey, referencing the union that represents many professional actors. “Hopefully the whole town is doing that for everyone who’s non-Equity as well.”

The situation’s inherent uncertainty adds a further layer of difficulty. “We might be back in two weeks, but we also might not be,” says Hashizume. “I want to be hopeful.”

Sad though the situation is, “I think it was the right thing to do,” says Brickey about the postponements, acknowledging the extraordinary danger to public health. “The theater community can set an example, the same way that we do with every project, every show, every crisis we come across.”

McVean is optimistic. “We’re very committed to getting this [production] back on its feet when we can, especially since we’re so far along in the process. When we go to put this back up, we won’t need more than three or four rehearsals.”

Brickey says the postponement of Redwood hit particularly hard, given the importance of the issues addressed in Brittany K. Allen’s play. “It’s about interracial relationships and slavery. It’s very, very near to my own heart... we put our whole selves into these things, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a very strong emotional release.”

Hashizume will continue to develop her craft during the hiatus. “I’m probably going to be working a lot on music, because that’s what gives me a lot of joy and that’s what I can do here at home by myself: sit at the piano and sing.”

“When we come back to it,” Brickey says, “especially after all this social distancing, the way that we’re longing for community... this being a story about love and history and ancestors, we will come back even more open, and we’ll be so glad to see each other.”