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During Coronavirus, A Connecticut Theater Finds New Ways To Get Art To Audiences

An artistic rendering of the Legacy Theatre in Branford, Conn.
Courtesy of the Legacy Theatre
An artistic rendering of the Legacy Theatre in Branford, Conn.

The Legacy Theatre in Branford, Connecticut, isn’t technically open yet. But Artistic Director Keely Baisden Knudsen says they’ve done more than 70 performances without a building.

“We did a ‘Hamlet’ on the Guilford Green, and we did ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on the Branford Green,” she says.

COVID-19 meant no more live shows. But Knudsen didn’t want to lose momentum.

“The more we heard social distancing, social distancing, we thought, gosh, how do you create theater which is alive in this social distance climate?”

So she started the Social Distance Theatre. She sends out a newsletter and shares clips from artists who would have performed. Like Julie Fitzpatrick’s one-woman show called 77 U-Turn about her childhood and her brother’s struggle with mental illness.

“It is about her own personal experience,” Knudsen says. “Coming back to this area, Guilford, Connecticut, to a childhood home and facing things she was unable to face.”

Musician Sarah Golley is another performer who’s found a way to keep the show moving.

Golley hosts the Quarantined series on Facebook. It grew out of a color-coded list she started way before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At one point, I wanted to have a list of all the musicians in the state so I could book shows,” Golley says. “And I was like, there’s not one that exists, I’m gonna make one.”

The list turned into a Facebook group where artists could post their new songs. When COVID-19 led to cancelled shows, she saw a lot of her friends in the group livestream their music instead.

“And I thought about it, why don’t we organize them together somehow because otherwise they just get lost in the shuffle?”

The series treats each performance as an event and lists them on a calendar, just like a venue. One of the first to sign up was a New Haven singer-songwriter called An Historic.

“He plays the accordion and sings these very theatrical songs,” Golley says.

“The idea is to keep things, I don’t want to say as normal as possible, but to keep ourselves from being too isolated.”

Knudsen, of the Legacy Theatre, says performing arts have still taken a serious hit due to COVID-19. And not just due to lack of ticket sales.

“The regional theaters of the world are nonprofits,” says Knudsen, the director of Legacy Theatre. “And when you’re looking at global issues that have to do with health, shelter, food, medicine, I think that the arts are not going to be the dollar priority that they had been.”

And she says she understands why that’s necessary. But she believes there will always be a base of support for the arts – whether in person or at a distance.

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.


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Copyright 2020 WSHU

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He fell in love with sound-rich radio storytelling while working as an assistant reporter at KBIA public radio in Columbia, Missouri. Before coming back to radio, he worked in digital journalism as the editor of Newtown Patch. As a freelance reporter, his work for WSHU aired nationally on NPR. Davis is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism; he started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.

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