After a lack of in-person entertainment, Touchstone Theatre has resumed live performances at limited audience capacity.
On April 9 and 10, the theatre presented “An Imagined America,” a drag show created by Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidate Adam Ercolani.
Lisa Jordan, manager of Touchstone Theatre, said they had been operating at limited capacity since July with a mix of live outdoor events in the warmer months and livestreamed events during the winter. This event is the first live event in 2021, she said.
Touchstone has a MFA in their Performance Creation Program, a new partnership between the theatre and Moravian College.
Ercolani is a member of the program’s first class and, through it, he said he has gained valuable experience.
“An Imagined America” is the thesis project Ercolani is presenting, serving as a culmination of everything he has learned at Touchstone thus far.
Ercolani said his mission behind creating the show was to provide a recontextualization of particular moments in history as a way of looking at the past and present in order to envision the future.
“What I call the show is a re-imagination of what America is, was, can or may be,” Ercolani said.
The show consisted of different components and the audience experienced the sequence of the show events in groups of five. The first half of the show occurred inside a gallery space, followed by performances in a park space just outside of the theatre.
“As an audience member, you see a drag queen in a giant plexiglass box, and that drag queen is lip-syncing to prerecorded audio and then kicking things off at the end with a drag number in form of lip-syncing to a song as they would in an actual drag show,” Ercolani said.
Ercolani wrote the proposal for the project in August, received an approval for the show in December and has worked on the project since January. He said it was an eye-opening experience creating art during the pandemic, and it can make individuals re-evaluate the way they do things, especially theater performers who are used to performing in person in front of live audiences.
“The cool thing to think about is that this project would have never happened and I never would have done anything like this if we had not been in the times that we’re facing because the project involves safety measures that ends up being an even better and more intimate experience for the audience,” Ercolani said.
Jordan said it’s extremely important to think about safety when hosting this event during the pandemic. With only having five spots for audience members, and requiring each person to be at least six feet apart, she said COVID-19 posed some challenges.
“We just about sold out all performances,” Jordan said. “We probably could have doubled, if not tripled the audience had we been able to fit more people, but that’s okay because we have the safety measures down.”
One of the safety measures that was put in place during the performance was putting the actors inside giant plexiglass boxes in order to eliminate the need for them to wear a mask.
Jordan said they purchased plexiglass and built a three-sided plexiglass box for the performers so they wouldn’t have to be masked. But the audience had to wear masks, she said.
Ercolani held a kickstarter campaign that raised almost $2,000, which helped fund the plexiglass and other materials for the event.
One of the actors facing these new protocols was Caliph Shabazz.
Shabazz said he collaborated with Ercolani to put together his part of the performance piece.
“We brainstormed at Touchstone for a few days actually figuring out what speech I wanted to do,” Shabazz said. “I knew I wanted to cover the Black Lives Matter topic to compare to history as a Black American and how white supremacy has always impacted us in a hugely negative way.”
Shabazz said all of the actors formed a bond with each other through the planning and rehearsal stages.
“We became closer with each other and built strong friendships along the way, which means so much because we are now super close,” Shabazz said. “I am so happy to have gained beautiful friends out of this experience.”