Tracy Tollmann „It’s a theatrical ecosystem: If they are not there, we’re not there“

Bonn · While everybody is trying to figure out how school, work and sports can happen while obeying all the different kind of disease prevention measures (albeit more and more of them are being lifted), actors, actresses and theatre directors are facing an even more complicated question: How to rehearse without being in the same room? The English-speaking theatre group, The Bonn Players has found modern ways – had to find modern ways to rescue the concept of theatre – as Tracy Tollmann tells us.

 Screenshot of a digital rehearsal – The Bonn Players are making the best of the pandemic situation.

Screenshot of a digital rehearsal – The Bonn Players are making the best of the pandemic situation.

Foto: Tracy Tollmann

As with everybody else, The Bonn Players members have been watching the whole world grinding to a halt since around mid-March. “On BBC Radio four, they recently ran a documentary about the legendary Globe Theatre being in danger of closing, and fringe festivals and theatre events all over the world are being postponed, cancelled, or scrapped entirely“, says Tracy Tollmann, Vice Chair of The Bonn Players – the group itself is celebrating its 40th anniversary next year. “Such events are a breeding ground for many of our upcoming actresses and actors of tomorrow – and none of them are taking place so far this year.”

Between the Bonn Players, the Bonn University Shakespeare company (BUSC) – which we will portray in a different piece, stay tuned – and the Brotfabrik venue, there is a symbiotic connection, she says. “It is a theatrical ecosystem at the best of times – if they are not there, we’re not there. “Helping each other out with props and costumes, usually providing a stage and a place to rehearse, watching out for each other – the English-speaking theatre world in Bonn is close-knit, and it has to be.

“As opposed to the somewhat younger group of the BUSC, our members in the Bonn Players were looking for a bit of a helping hand when it came to using modern technology to replace physical meetings.” Tracy, who works for the UN, brought her work expertise in training for video conferences and online communication into the equation. “And even the ones who were slightly sceptical at first, really got into it once they could see the benefits of still being able to meet in a virtual setting in spite of the lock-down.”

Online castings for new plays, committee meetings over the internet, and digital communication slowly but surely have become the norm. “And then we did a very informal reading of ‘No Exit‘ by JeanPaul Sartre, with just a few of us taking part. Quite fitting in this pandemic situation, isn’t it?” Everybody knew their roles and despite the characters supposedly being locked in one room with each other according to the stage instructions, the famous piece by the French existentialist worked across screens just as well.

“We then began to ask ourselves, can we stream this for our members as a feasibility reading, to gauge its suitability for a wider (paying) audience? Can we present it while respecting all the respective rules?” Like some other advantages brought to all of us by the pandemic – such as more time for family and oneself – another opportunity then arose. “While considering who could read which roles, one of our former members, Fergus Maloney, expressed interest in reading for Garcin – the main male lead. He had moved to Austria last year, and we thought we had lost him, that he was off our cast list. But now, since we are all reading long-distance style – he’s back with us!”

While testing the waters with the feasibility reading of the Sartre play, the Bonn Players began looking at the prospects of bringing it to the stage for a quite limited audience, maybe later in the year, says the theatre group’s Vice Chair hopefully. “We are also investigating options of filming and/or streaming it to bring it to more people. But will people be wary of returning to the theatres? Or will they rush into it? “Hard to tell “, says Tracy. “To start off though, we are glad to be looking at this play, which is perfect for us and the situation, because there are only three characters on stage at any given time and the set/costumes should be quite straightforward.”

The pandemic situation has hit the financial side of amateur theatre hard as well. “At the moment, we don’t have a source of income, as we weren’t able to run our usual spring production, so lost out on those ticket sales. We are hopeful that our November production of “An Evening with Tony Layton: Lucy in the Sky, and Sharks in the Custard” – two one-act comedies will run as planned from that should help to cheer everyone up and could boost the coffers to insure our survival and to contribute towards some special events we have planned for our special 40th anniversary year next year!”

“For me, everything we do at the moment is about keeping momentum during the lockdown.“ And its aftermath: „We still want to be there afterwards, and I think that our Bonn English-speaking audience would agree with us!“

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