By Kyle Jensen
Queerantine Stories are personal essays or artistic pieces about the queer and trans community during the Coronavirus Pandemic. We hope their stories will help show their varied experiences in different communities within the Jersey City area and throughout the nation.
Imagine with me: you're sitting in a red velvet chair, one of 500. The lights dim, the orchestra tunes, your heart beats a little quicker, then the curtain rises. You spend the next 2 ½ hours watching as a troupe of players defines and identifies the human experience through a combination of music, story, dance, and song. If you’re anything like me, there is no greater thrill in the world!
The performing arts are one of the most uniquely human experiences we can partake in as a culture. Unlike a movie or a sporting event, the performing arts encourage a communal connection not just between the audience members themselves, but between the audience and the performers. There is kinetic energy that is transferred through the fourth wall. Together, as a community, you have an experience together.
In this time of COVID-19, finding connection and community has become difficult if not impossible. I think, as a society, we have discovered that human connection is as essential to our survival as food and water. Everyone is finding creative and innovative ways to capture the connection and community they need. For me, I instantly wanted to find a way to present art through a virtual platform. On the surface, this sounds simple enough. People get together, people sing music, people laugh, people cry, people are happy, right? I didn’t think that was enough. Like so many of the arts being presented to us right now, I was not content with a pre-recorded video I could edit and sync together then present with one live host. As much as I have enjoyed these presentations (shout out to 54 Below, Broadway Cares, and National Theatre Live), it erases that magic energy coming through the fourth wall. I wanted to find a way to get as close to that magic theatrical experience as I could. We ended up creating so much more.
A troupe of 18 people who each sang a song or two live to an audience that peaked at 650. That’s not where the real magic happened though. The real magic was something I did not expect and could not have planned for. While members of the cast were not performing, they were interacting with the audience in the group chat. As a director, I normally sequester my cast as far away from the audience as possible in order to preserve the fourth wall illusion. It quickly became apparent that the energy of this show was not going to come through the fourth wall, but from tearing down the fourth wall. Not only was this incredible cast able to transfer that kinetic magic of theatre through their art, but they also found a way to truly connect with the audience in a real, tangible, and authentic way. I was humbled and honored to be a part of it.
As you continue to navigate this new world we find ourselves in, I encourage you to seek out new and creative ways to engage in art and community with friends, neighbors, and strangers. Allow yourself to explore this world in new ways. Most importantly, engage with other people as often as you can in as many different ways as you can. The fourth wall isn’t on the stage anymore. It’s right in front of you, and only you can break it down.
Kyle Jensen is a local entertainer and performer who recently moved to New Jersey from Colorado. An avid Broadway connoisseur and Disney fan, he formerly worked at the local piano bar, Pianist Envy, and helped support the staff with fundraisers on zoom when the quarantine began.