The cast of Theatre Baton Rouge's "Clybourne Park."

The show must go on(line): How Theatre Baton Rouge kept singing and dancing digitally through the pandemic

While theaters across the country were left waiting in the wings until the curtain could be raised again, Theatre Baton Rouge transformed itself to adapt to the startling turn of events last year. By shifting to virtual productions, TBR managed to thrive and prosper during a time that stifled the arts community. To uncover how TBR fine-tuned itself to continue performing, we spoke to TBR’s Managing Artistic Director Jenny Ballard to give us insight into the theater’s transition.

“Obviously, we had to shut everything down at the end of March last year,” says Ballard. “We immediately started researching streaming opportunities because we had not streamed anything at that point, and had no idea what the options might be.”

Theatre Baton Rouge’s Fall Fling was one of the pandemic-era virtual showcases that proved that the arts world still had much to offer.

Throughout last year, TBR began hosting virtual performances of productions like How I Learned to Drive in early May, and events like TBR’s Fall Fling moved to virtual streaming. As the state progressed through pandemic reopening phases, TBR has successfully hosted live and virtual performances and is recently wrapping up a performance of Clybourne Park, the first COVID-era performance allowed a capacity of 80 audience members.

“I’m excited to get back to a sense of normalcy in the building itself, and to get back to at least 50% capacity, which will be a lovely change of events from the past year,” says Ballard. “We’ve been one of the only theaters in the town that has been regularly producing during the past season, and I’m really proud of us for figuring out how to do that. I think that has set us apart and shows that theater and theater artists are incredibly adaptable and flexible.”

Ballard credits their survival to these key community members—the actors and supporters who give life to the arts in Baton Rouge.

“We’ve seen increased donations this year thanks to the amazing community we have surrounding us,” she says. “It’s been great to see Baton Rougeans come out in droves, considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic, to support the arts in Baton Rouge. We’ve had an amazing arts community here for the past 75 years, and it’s been exciting to see a new community form in the past several months.”

You read correctly: TBR is celebrating 75 seasons this year—its Diamond Jubilee—with celebratory events gearing up for better days.

“We had all sorts of massive events planned for the past year that we’ve had to postpone,” says Ballard. “But we’ve been able to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee pretty effectively. We have a lovely reunion event planned for this coming April which will celebrate volunteers from the past 75 years. We also have our Diamond Jubilee Gala coming up in May and another reunion event coming up in August.”

For those wishing to sing along again to the chorus of Chicago or the melodies of Matilda, Ballard looks forward to seeing more musicals on TBR’s horizon.

“Once Baton Rouge has been vaccinated even more than they have been at this point, I think we will be able to move into musicals in the spring of 2022,” says Ballard. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to do a lot of the planned shows that we originally had to cancel, like Anything Goes, Matilda, Chicago and Legally Blonde.

In anticipation of the forthcoming season, inRegister asked some of TBR’s team members for their favorite online performances of the past year:

“My favorite digital performance that TBR has done has to be How I Learned to Drive, directed be Dr. Shannon Walsh. This was their first live streaming production. What was so amazing about this show was that it proved that no matter the stakes or what is going on it the world, art WILL happen. After this production, I actually directed a show for LSU through a similar format. TBR’s production sort of eased my worry about tackling this new format.” – Brandon Persica

“AI was impressed with the Zoom performance of Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play, directed by Jason Breaux. It was so cool how the production team created such a ‘vintage’ feel by presenting the performance in black and white, and the set/scene changes (virtual backgrounds) blended so well with the actors and environment they created. They didn’t use the standard Zoom filters/backgrounds, which is probably why they looked so good.” – Mercedes Wilson-Villasenor

“I was very awestruck and inspired by TBR’s Gala performance in 2020. The actors/singers did an amazing job using the technology, editing and creative techniques to make for a very exciting and visually entertaining production. I also very much enjoyed the Christmas carols that were broadcast each week this past December. Creative use of video techniques combined with getting to hear a complete ensemble sing for the first time in nine months was refreshing and inspiring for the holidays.” – Lance Parker, President of Theatre Baton Rouge

Visit TBR’s website to purchase tickets to the theater’s production of Blithe Spirit, running April 23 – May 2.