Q: Is it effective and beneficial to dramatize or even satirize this global crisis as it occurs?
I readily admit that I am someone who has used television and movies as an escape during this global crisis. Consequently, I have found myself uninterested in any shows that have incorporated the coronavirus into its storylines. Even after 17 years of following tragedy after tragedy on a staple like Grey’s Anatomy, I stopped watching this season because of “pandemic fatigue.” I understand that it must be almost impossible to write a medical drama without acknowledging the pandemic, but I decided to save this season for a binge weekend in the distant future. I’m loyal, so I promise to watch eventually but at the moment I just didn’t connect with the dramatization of a real global tragedy. I couldn’t worry about Meredith Grey when I was truly worried about an actual surgeon in my life dealing with the actual virus every day.
As for shows that take place outside of the front lines, it is always up to the writer to decide whether this global crisis should be included and affect the world of the show.
One show that has decided to exist outside of the pandemic is Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. It was well into this season that someone brought it to my attention that they never address the pandemic. No one is masked. I was shocked I hadn’t even noticed. I suppose it was easy for me to accept a pandemic-free world when the characters are prone to belt out “Hello, Dolly!“
Did I mention I’m an escapist who loves a classic Broadway showstopper? Easy target.
I recently had a similar situation with one of my new musicals that centers around the Spring musical at a high school being canceled. Knowing that most Spring shows have been canceled once again because of the pandemic opened the possibility of incorporating this detail into our script. As a matter of fact, when theaters closed last year, theater kids missing out on their Spring show were at the forefront of my mind, so the change felt honest and appropriate. But was it necessary?
As creators, I think we must not only be on the pulse of the moment but be the dreamers of what our world can and will look like years from now. For my particular story, adding the pandemic felt unnecessary because the story obviously exists in a post-pandemic world if the school is putting on a show. We are writing a version of the future that can only exist once we are on the other side of this global crisis.
If your story is crisis-centered, the challenge will always be the unpredictability of a global pandemic. The truth is, none of us are able to write Corona’s storyline. We all have an unpredictable character to deal with in real-time as we craft our stories. For this reason alone, there will always be benefits to dramatizing and satirizing this moment in history we are living through.
However, if given the choice- it’s the show set in a mask-less world where computer geniuses pirouette and Alex Newell bursts into song for me.
PS: For more tips like this and to join a community of like-minded theater professions, check out The Theatermakers Studio.