Inside the Arts: Unlikely partners create artful collaboration during pandemic

Atlanta Shakespeare Company will mount a A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shown above in a previous production, in partnership with Atlanta Contemporary.

Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to welcome Camille Russell Love, the longtime executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, to the Intown family. She will be writing a regular column about arts in the city, kicking off with a fruitful collaboration between the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and The Atlanta Contemporary art center.

For more than a year, many of us who work in the arts, culture, and nonprofit fields have become familiar with the term collaboration, perhaps more now than at any other time in our professional lives. The health pandemic did not leave us, or the ways in which we traditionally carry out our duties, out of its line of sight. To stay alive, organizations reduced budgets, staff and creative and other offerings. Audiences vanished and the excitement all but disappeared.

However, true to the city’s symbol, the Phoenix, Atlanta’s institutions regained their footing. Out of COVID’s ashes, the community rose. In other times, we simply thought of collaboration as working with others to accomplish a common goal – perhaps something for a greater good. More recently, though, it is one of the word’s alternative meanings that better reflects the community’s impulse to survive – working with those with whom we otherwise would have little or no connection.

Among many such outstanding partnerships, one organization’s work deserves mention–The Atlanta Shakespeare Company (ASC). In August 2020, ASC began working with local production company Up The Hills Productions. Co-owners Corey Phelps, an actor, and Jesse Allard, a film location assistant, worked with ASC staff to create hybrid productions – filmed “live” productions. For these productions, they did not just stick a camera in the back of the theater and press record. Instead, they quarantined actors in safe “bubbles” (think NBA and NFL), and then filmed the piece as if it were a feature-length Hollywood movie. The first performances to receive this treatment were Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet – 60-minute shows that would have traveled to schools during the 2020-2021 academic year. Those successes inspired them to do more. Thus, ASC rehearsed and filmed Othello and All’s Well That Ends Well, 90 minutes each.

Perhaps what is ASC’s most ambitious collaboration is now underway. From May 13-16, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company will work with the Atlanta Contemporary museum to produce A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production will feature an all-female cast and be staged in the museum’s outdoor pavilion. With COVID precautions in mind, the Contemporary hired an outside vendor to recommend and manage appropriate distancing and other safety protocols.

Additionally, each actor will have a costume-coordinated mask she can put on when a part calls for her to approach a member of the audience. And, not to leave out the romantic elements of the production, actors will employ “stylized intimacy” techniques used by Bollywood actors. Finally, to quench thirsts, children and adults alike will enjoy Capri Sun beverages. The kids, the real thing, and the adults, well, ones that are somewhat modified.

COVID-19 may have stripped us of a lot over the course of the past year, but The Atlanta Shakespeare Company is forging ahead—exploring new horizons and engaging in meaningful collaborations. A bonus of this collaboration is that audience members will have an opportunity to see Atlanta Contemporary’s 2021 Atlanta Biennial, Of Care and Destruction.

Camille Russell Love has been executive director of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs for more than two decades.