Staying creative while also staying safe at home is not as easy as it might seem. And even though William Shakespeare wrote the transcendent “King Lear” during a lockdown because of the plague, remember, that was a pretty grim tragedy.
We checked in with a handful of theater couples — actors, playwrights, directors, and designers — to see how they are surviving, adapting, and creating, all while maintaining their optimism about theater on the other side of the pandemic.
Davron S. Monroe and Kaedon Gray
Davron S. Monroe and Kaedon Gray are both mainstays of Boston’s musical theater scene. Monroe was seen most recently in “Caroline, or Change,” while Gray appeared in “The Rocky Horror Show,” both at Moonbox Productions. But the couple say they never compete for the same roles.
“We’re both technically tenors,” says Gray, “but I’m on the lower range of tenor. Davron has so much power in his voice though, I get out of his way.”
Thinking about performing in the midst of isolation, however, has required a new kind of creativity.
“I’m used to the audience reacting immediately to a song or a line, and in a scene, you can see your partner’s slight raise of the eyebrow,” says Monroe. “But the space we are in now demands new ideas about how to make sure we can make this new form of theater alive and vibrant on a computer screen.”
Gray has a side project with Monroe called “Late Night with the Devil,” a talk show in which he interviews other musicians and theater artists. Monroe, he says, has revealed additional talents he wasn’t aware of.
“Davron is my cameraman,” Gray says, “and my set designer. He finds things around the house and turns them into the perfect props.”
The pair say they are learning as they go, and “as we become more confident with the tools, Kaedon and I would love to do some duets. We’ve written our own arrangement of ‘Our Love is Here to Stay’ and ‘Wonderful World.’ ”
“We in the arts are resilient people,” says Monroe. “This is a tough time, and we are doing the best we can. If we create that’s OK, and if we don’t, that’s OK, too.”
Karen MacDonald and David Remedios
Actress Karen MacDonald and sound designer David Remedios don’t often get to work together, so the recent SpeakEasy Stage Company production of “The Children” was a treat. The drama, which had to close early because of the pandemic, eerily presaged the strange world we are living in now.
“We sometimes bounce ideas off each other,” says MacDonald, “and sometimes I give suggestions for a sound cue, but I think about it in a different way than David.”
While live theater has been paused, MacDonald and Remedios are finishing out their semesters as teachers, she at Harvard and he at Boston University.
“I think the hardest thing about social distancing is that it’s the exact opposite of what we teach in acting class,” says MacDonald.
“But we’re all trying to think outside the box,” says Remedios.
Both will spend the summer working on projects that have been postponed but not canceled.
MacDonald will star in “At Wit’s End,” the one-woman celebration of humorist Erma Bombeck, which will be produced at Merrimack Repertory Theatre Jan. 6-24 after its postponement this spring. She is also working with Merrimack Rep as the Theatre Communications Group/Fox Foundation resident actor fellow, developing a script about the women, many of them immigrants, who came to Lowell to work in the mills.
Remedios has spent the last few summers at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., which produces six new American plays in repertory.
“The theater has committed to paying all the artists involved,” says Remedios, “even though they won’t be produced until next summer. It gives us more time to formulate what we might want to do with these plays, which is a rare luxury.”
John and Miranda ADEkoje
Playwright and film director John Oluwole ADEkoje and playwright Miranda ADEkoje have a 13-month old daughter at home who creates a structure for their day. But the couple, both of whom were Huntington playwriting fellows, say their different work styles complement each other.
Miranda just signed a contract to write a 20-minute, two-character play about Crispus Attucks, the first person to die in the Boston Massacre. The play is being presented as a companion piece to “Reflecting Attucks,” a new exhibit at the Old State House that examines how the memory of Attucks has inspired generations of activists to fight for social change.
“The play was originally supposed to be presented in July, but has been postponed,” Miranda says. “But I was able to visit the exhibit and the space where it will be performed. I like knowing what the parameters of the play are.”
John, however, who is currently working on a script for a sci-fi film on the scale of “Black Panther,” says he finds commissions confining. While he enjoys collaborating and has created stunning projections for, most recently, The Nora & WAM Theatre’s “Pipeline,” he says he likes to pursue the stories that move him and then shop them to theaters. His film experience, he says, is helping him think about adjusting theatrical experiences to fit more comfortably in this new environment.
“People need these stories, but we have to come up with a new language to tell the best story possible,” John says.
“I know podcasts are the thing now,” says Miranda, “but maybe we have to go back to radio plays, and incorporate sound effects, and add theatricality without the visual component.”
Although they take different approaches, both say they challenge and encourage each other.
“We knew each other as playwrights before we got married,” says Miranda, “so we have an appreciation and respect for each other’s work as artists.”
Paula Plum and Richard Snee
Actors Paula Plum and Richard Snee laugh about the idea of having the time to be more creative during the pandemic. “We’ve been running funny monologues with each other for 40 years,” says Snee.
The couple appear often on Boston stages, either separately (Plum most recently in “The Children,” for which she won an Elliot Norton Award this week, and Snee in “Choir Boy,” both at SpeakEasy) or together (“Barefoot in the Park” at Gloucester Stage Company). Plum says she’d love for them to turn their talents toward the Mike Nichols-Elaine May sketch comedy routines if they can get the rights. In the meantime, even as their teaching commitments wind down (Plum at UMass Lowell and Snee at Bridgewater State University), they have donated their time with performances that have appeared on local theater companies’ Facebook and websites.
“In June we enter the existential void,” says Plum, since summer productions they were to perform in have been canceled or postponed.
“But I’ve been encouraging Richard to revisit some of his scripts rather than start something new,” says Plum. Snee, who holds an MFA in playwriting from Boston University, has written several full-length plays.
“I have always said he is the funniest person I ever met,” says Plum.
The couple met when Snee was the night manager at the Parker House hotel and Plum was the concierge. “He used to write summaries of the night’s events that were hilarious,” says Plum.
Several, Snee admits, have become the basis of his scripts. But, he says, Plum is writing too, and although the lack of a deadline can be intimidating, “theater will return. As a tribe, we are meant to sit together and share stories. We’ll figure it out.”