There's no curtain call. No breathing on the microphone. And you probably won't need to use the restroom. These are the conditions for one of the first plays to appear in an indoor space since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the theater industry into lockdown.
But Fortune's Fool Theatre's "To Breed, or Not to Breed," through Nov. 22, is the first long run inside a Twin Cities theater since March, and it will look very different from plays the way we used to know them.
The show will be at northeast Minneapolis' Crane Theater, which has a capacity of 80 but only 20 seats will be sold. Temperatures will be taken. Audience members will wear masks and maintain physical distance. The cast will change each week. Frequently sanitized restrooms will be open, but the performance is only 45 minutes long so they may not be needed. Only one performer will be on stage at a time, each with their own microphone cover to prevent aerosol spread. Once a performer has completed their part of "To Breed" — a collection of stories about deciding whether to become a parent — they'll leave, since there will be no bows at the end.
That 20 theater artists are willing to go to these lengths is a sign of their eagerness to forge a path for live performance.
"As a performer and as an avid theatergoer, I'm excited to get back out there and do it. I don't think I'm nervous as far as the virus goes because we're doing it in a safe way. We can't even hug friends we're performing with," said Heidi Garrido, one of the first week's storytellers. "I'm excited to be on a stage and look at fellow humans."
On parenting (or not)
Humans have been cooking up "Breed" since at least last November. That's when Fortune's Fool booked space at the Crane, intending to produce a different work.
"I was hoping we'd be able to do it in November but it became clear in the summer that we couldn't. That's when Ariel came up with this idea," said Dan Pinkerton of his daughter and co-artistic director, Ariel Pinkerton.
"I do a lot of storytelling, particularly for the Minnesota Fringe, and I've always loved that format. I also helped create 'The Abortion Chronicles,' a popular Fringe show that used many different storytellers," said Ariel. "And, since 'Abortion Chronicles,' I've thought a lot about the other end of things."
Each show will include six performers (a different set each week), addressing some facet of being a parent. Whereas Dan never thought much about the topic before becoming a dad, Ariel didn't intend to have kids until she married her now ex-husband, who wanted children. And she's thrilled they had Fiona, who will be 5 next month.
Like Garrido, Ariel is eager to get back on stage.
"As artists, we need it really bad and, perhaps, as parents who are dealing with an unprecedented experience," said Ariel. "I have a 5-year-old and I can't take her anywhere. Boy, does that change some of my feelings. If you told me there was going to be a pandemic, would my answer be the same? If you told me there wouldn't be zoos or indoor playgrounds or that I couldn't take her to a friend's house?"
The storytelling will cover a broad spectrum, including men who donated sperm, folks who've opted not to reproduce and others with adoption stories. Most actors wrote their own pieces, although Jeannie Lander will perform one written by playwright Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay.
"Diversity in age and economic status and race and culture — it's all across the board. And GLBTQ. It's representative, as much as we can make it," said Dan.
Garrido will talk about being an adoptee who discovered she was pregnant with her first child when she was 20: He's Jace Garrido-Edington, now 16.
"There's a twist in my piece that I had to get permission from Jace to share," said Garrido, a mother of three who also appeared in "Abortion Chronicles." "Hopefully, it touches him in a way where maybe some things I've never said out loud to him before, he can see them performed and know there's a lot of love there."
The 'old normal'
Garrido has no qualms about the safety aspects of "Breed." So far, her only complaint to director Ben Layne is a show-people problem: Rehearsing online on Zoom is tricky for her because she uses her hands so much. That means she has to figure out where to put them, since it's uncomfortable to anchor them under her desk but awkward to place them high enough to be seen in her Zoom box.
Once the Pinkertons had the concept, they consulted state regulations and asked performers and potential audience members what would make them comfortable in a theater.
"Even if it felt technically safe, putting two actors on stage together unless they're from the same household felt like a big 'no,' so that's where solo performers came into it," said Ariel, who's performing in the first and third weeks (and is an exception to the solo rule — she'll appear on stage with her dad).
"We have music that gives people time to come offstage before someone else goes on, so there's no anxiety about timing. And we chose a short show, so people won't have to use a public bathroom, although we'll sanitize it frequently," Ariel continued. "We're also paying attention to internalized anxieties: Even though people can safely be indoors, masked, how long before they start to feel apprehensive about that?"
The Pinkertons know there's no way to reassure everyone, given differing boundaries and health concerns. Which is why they'll make a streaming version of "Breed" available on a pay-what-you-can basis after the run.
Nobody will get rich off "To Breed, or Not to Breed" but the Pinkertons say they're pleased to give artists a chance to create (and a small stipend), and to pay rent to the owners of the shuttered Crane while dipping a toe back into live-performance waters.
"It is an experiment and if people feel comfortable enough in light of the safety to come to the theater, great. If they don't, well, we won't lose too much money because it's a lean production," said Dan.
Garrido can't wait to see what it feels like.
"We've been so trained now for the last close-to-a-year that this is a new normal. So to go back to just a little of the old normal is a little bizarre," she said.