How Asolo Rep Is Making In-Person Theatre Possible During the Pandemic

With it’s one-woman production of Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, the company gave a glimpse into what producing theatre could be as the stages seek to re-open.

On March 3, when E. Faye Butler took her final bow on the set of Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Asolo Repertory Theatre successfully accomplished what theatres across the world have been struggling to do for a year: to create. Each night, a maximum audience of 200 patrons sat under the Florida sky to see the production, chairs organized in pods of two and distanced but united in the time-honored tradition of experiencing live performance.

Since March 2020, COVID precautions have caused theatre to largely shift to a digital format, re-defining what the art form could be but leaving the arts community craving more substantive experiences. Zoom readings, virtual musical concerts, and more have replaced traditional theatre. But this temporary solution is largely unsustainable for the many people that theatre employs. At present, Be An #ArtsHero estimates approximately 2.7 million artists including theatre workers are out of work. Many artist are struggling to simply stay afloat during this time of crisis.

With Fannie, Asolo Rep has taken a large step forward in re-imagining what theatrical production can look like as the arts community seeks to rebuild. The show marked the Sarasota theatre company’s first full production since the COVID-19 pandemic forced stages across the United States to go dark.