Just like you, playwright William Shakespeare got stuck at home for long periods of time because people were sick. (He lived in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, when the problem was bubonic plague, not the novel coronavirus.) So how did he spend his time? By writing some of the most famous plays ever, including “Macbeth.”
Working on a show might be the perfect remedy to being cut off from friends and normal activities, says Margo Brenner Collins, education director of Adventure Theatre MTC in Rockville, Maryland, and nearby Glen Echo Park.
“Theater lets you connect with people and your thoughts,” she says. Making up stories and acting them out provides an outlet to express your feelings, and it encourages you to collaborate with those around you — with family at home or even friends on a video chat.
Looking for inspiration isn’t hard, says Collins, who suggests writing a one-person monologue from the perspective of a household object. Perhaps focus on your couch, which is getting exhausted from people sitting on it all day long. Or try to rewrite a favorite song by giving it new lyrics. You can also play music and figure out how it makes you want to move.
“It’s not necessarily dance,” Collins says. “You’re telling a story. Where are you? Who are you?”
Being cooped up inside makes it even more important to move, says Christopher Rushing, education director at Arlington’s Synetic Theater, which specializes in physical performances. His favorite activity with students is “Super Serious Animal Yoga.” Stretch and contort your body in a funny way and give it a name, says Rushing, who offers up “T. rex reaching for a spoon” and “giraffe who’s yawning.”
If you have siblings (or willing parents), Rushing says, you could try “Statue in the Garden.” One person is the gardener, everyone else is a statue. While the gardener pretends to water plants and weed — and isn’t looking — the statues can change shape. But when the gardener looks up, they need to freeze into the most interesting pose possible.
“Move the tables and chairs out of the way,” Rushing suggests, before you play “Yes, Let’s,” which helps develop your pantomime skills. One person announces, “Let’s be pirates” (or dentists or popcorn or whatever). Everyone else responds, “Yes, let’s” and does it. Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly how to act out the idea. “The best thing you can do is try. Say ‘yes’ to yourself,” Rushing says.
Experimentation is also the point of “Object Tag,” which is a big hit at programs run by Bethesda’s Imagination Stage, says Joanne Seelig Lamparter, the theater’s director of education.
Pick something you have nearby, for example, a hairbrush. “I take it and show it’s a guitar,” Lamparter says. She can’t say what it is, but she can pretend to pluck the strings. Once someone has guessed correctly, the hairbrush moves on to the next person and maybe transforms into a baseball bat.
If you want something to play with a friend over the phone or a video chat, Lamparter suggests “Alphabet Improv.” Start the first line with the letter “A.” The next person’s response must start with the letter “B.” (“Annie, where did you hide that piece of paper?” “But you didn’t tell me what paper you’re looking for.” And so on.)
“You really need to use your listening skills to keep it going,” Lamparter says.
Whatever you create, Collins says, find a way to perform for others.
“Rally the troops at the end of the work day,” she says. “Part of what makes theater beautiful is sharing it.”