Sasha Sullivan of Telluride Theatre: An All Hands On Deck Approach to Pandemic-era Performances
Interview by Michael Raver
And now, some good news.
Some theaters across the country have managed to continue producing live work, albeit under very different conditions. The summer has timed out perfectly for outdoor performances, which for Telluride Theatre, is particularly convenient. Their annual Shakespeare In The Park production has been designed to incorporate the great outdoors. While the company utilizes a variety of available Colorado venues, the slot in their season allocated to The Bard has always been outside. In years past, Shakespeare In The Park has been presented on The Town Park Stage, a breathtaking and world-renowned locale on the film and musical festival circuit. On the heels of their annual gala, which was also an outdoor event, Telluride Theatre is determined to keep the home fires burning.
“Theatre can set a bar for how to re-open safely,” says artistic director Sasha Sullivan. “But, also how to be together as one.” This summer, Telluride Theatre will mount an innovative outdoor production of As You Like It. The show runs August 22-30.
How has the pandemic affected your theater?
SASHA SULLIVAN: We had to shut a world-premiere musical workshop down on March 15th and then cancel our largest fundraiser of the year. It was a scramble for a few months to figure out how to stay afloat, raise money, figure out what we could be doing and how to plan for the future. We did a local online play festival/contest that kept everyone involved. Starting, now, to do some small outdoor things. No one saw this coming. It has and will change everything for years to come.
What are you doing to keep your sanity?
SS: Luckily, we live in a beautiful outdoorsy place—so hiking, running, being outside with my family keeps me sane. Reading, cooking, cleaning. Also, watching a lot of bad tv to stop myself from watching the news.
Have you had to lay off any employees?
SS: No, and we made that very hard decision. We have 2.5 employees, everyone else is contract. So, the contract people are of course working less. For the others, we made a conscious decision to honor the work they have done and keep them on. We have been extremely busy even in the midst of this. We’ve needed all hands on deck. We were able to raise a little money, get the PPP to sustain through the end of the year.
The socio-political environment has become tense. How do you think this will reflect on the theatrical community when things do eventually reopen?
SS: I think theatre can change the world. Now more than ever, people crave live, in-person connection. Theatre is a sacred space where a mirror is held to humanity. When things reopen, theatre will be a loud voice in calling out atrocities, become more inclusive, and tell everyone’s story. Theatre can set a bar for how to re-open safely, but, also how to be together as one. All of this—and offer great, joyous entertainment.
Do you plan on marking the country’s cultural shift in some way?
SS: Yes, of course. We always will hold ourselves accountable, change, grow, keep the conversation going. But right now, we are holding our breath until the next election.
What is your advice for staying creative during this era?
SS: (Laughs) I think all of us were raring to write the next great play, novel, and innovative online offerings. At some point, I had to give myself a break and say—it’s ok to just BE during this—not to add all of this ‘must-do’ pressure because we have time. Plus, I have an active, curious, wonderful 4-year-old at home who takes up a ton of time. I have written ideas down, but haven’t sat to finish anything. I have made projects with deadlines. That helps. Otherwise, talking to my creative family has helped keep the inspiration alive. And now, finally, planning for the future helps as well, even though everything can still change.
Is there anything about our industry that you’d like to see change when we’re all able to get back to work?
SS: More love, more kindness, and the correct avenues to call out and address any racism, sexism, or abuse on the job. I think this is an opportunity for a great shift—to love the planet, each other, and our art more. This will create real change.
For more information about Telluride Theatre or to purchase tickets to As You Like It, visit http://www.telluridetheatre.org/