When COVID-19 threatened to shut down businesses left and right, Fonseca Theatre Company survived through innovation because, according to founder Bryan Fonseca, “Artists are creative. … We find a way to get to opening night.”
Fonseca, a local theater veteran, and his company — of which 80% are racial or ethnic minorities — turned their parking lot into a theater, complete with a stage, socially distanced chairs and a hand sanitizing station, along with a mask requirement. From July 9 through July 26, the company put on a production of “Hype Man” by Idris Goodwin, which focuses on race relations and police-action shootings.
“The play was a response to the protests,” Fonseca said. “Our mission is to be very current to what’s happening in the world, nation and city around us. Theater has to keep going on because the voices need to be heard, this mission needs to be heard, and we can’t retreat in any way, shape or form on this issue.”
While the cast and crew of Fonseca Theatre are still calling for racial justice, they are no longer doing so from a stage. After an actor developed symptoms of COVID-19, the theater temporarily closed, and Fonseca said it could be anywhere from three weeks to a month before it reopens.
“We have to be responsible,” Fonseca said. “And closing temporarily was the only responsible response to it.”
Fonseca Theatre Company, of course, is not the only group to have to cease work due to the pandemic. Every facet of entertainment, from theater to sports, were forced to shut down due to COVID-19, and many organizations are facing setbacks in reopening due to a spike in cases.
This stop-and-go method of live entertainment may be the “new normal” for a while, especially if Marion County residents don’t follow the mask mandate, which took effect July 7.
Beyond the health of performers and audience members, perceived safety is also an issue.
Alyssa Whitt, who was an avid concert-goer before the pandemic began, said she’s uncomfortable at the thought of attending any live performance in the near future.
“I would not, at the moment, feel comfortable going to a show right now just due to everyone still not being smart about masks,” Whitt said. “ … I would like to think we could go back to that, but who knows?”
If live performances were to resume in the near future, many venues, including Fonseca Theatre Company, would have to remodel to allow social distancing.
“We would have to completely redo our interior,” Fonseca said. “We would have to reduce the number of seats and have blank seats in between people. We are literally going from 80 seats to 55.”
Like everything else in the age of COVID-19, the future of live entertainment is unpredictable. Fonseca, however, is confident his company will be OK, thanks to its audience.
“Unlike a lot of theaters in town, we have a reputation for having a younger, more culturally diverse audience,” Fonseca said. “That has helped us tremendously. They are outside on a regular basis at protests, and they are caused-minded people, and they connect with the mission of the theater.”
Despite the uncertainties, fans are hopeful things will soon return to normal.
“I think hopefully by the new year things could return, with masks required,” Whitt said. “I think COVID has changed how people feel about large crowds. … Maybe limiting the number of people and seating at shows could help in the long run.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.