From the time Summit Performance first arrived on Indy’s performing arts scene in 2018, I have been thoroughly impressed with the calibre of its artistic product. A woman-focused company, the group promotes itself as a performing arts organization “For Women. By Women. For Everybody.” And during its relatively short existence, it has created a highly respected brand resulting from the critical success of its productions presented at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, with which it has a partnership.
Partly responsible for Summit’s rise is its dynamic founding artistic director, Lauren Briggeman, who is also highly regarded as one of Indy’s finest actors and directors.
Like every other performing arts organization, Summit Performance has been adversely affected by COVID-19, and it too, is in a holding pattern as it faces an uncertain future. Curious about the extent of the disruption to Summit’s operations, I reached out to Briggeman for an update on the theatre’s status and how it has affected her personally. Following is a transcript of our email communication.
How has the pandemic impacted Summit Performance?
Summit is lucky to be a young and smaller organization during this time. I don’t envy our larger peer organizations, who have had to make some very difficult decisions regarding their employees as a result of COVID-19. We are also lucky not to have our own facility to maintain/pay for. Many of our colleagues depend on rentals and ticket sales to pay mortgages, insurance and utility payments. Other than a monthly insurance payment, we don’t share that burden. Having said that, Summit has had to cut hours for our two hourly employees and put myself, the only salaried employee, on furlough for the time being. Of course, our production calendar has also been affected and we have lost revenue as a result.
What are you planning for the immediate future?
For the immediate future, Summit is working on a couple of potential pieces of digital programming. One of our Community Conversation One Acts, “This Authentic Person,” a piece about individuals from the transgender and gender non-conforming community, was in rehearsals when the stay-at-home order went into effect for Marion County. We are in the midst of deciding whether we want to release a “filmed reading” version of that, or potentially do a live reading event, or both, and what the timeline for that will be. We are researching the possibility of putting the archival video of one of our productions online, which is of a very high quality thanks to Zach Rosing. Between the actors’ union and the publisher, there are a lot of logistics to work through, but we are hopeful we can make it happen. Finally, we have initiated a discussion with a couple of other companies in town about the idea of doing an outdoor reading event late this summer. We’re early in discussion, but it sounds like the idea has some potential depending on how things progress with the pandemic and how safely we think we can execute such an event.
How about long term?
Gratefully, long term, Summit is going to be able to continue to produce theatre coming out of COVID-19. What the scale and volume of those productions will look like depends on a variety of factors and we will lean conservatively to ensure the financial security of the company, though we will strive to continue to provide as many employment opportunities for local theatre professionals as is feasible, and as always, to create the highest quality products that we can.
How have your artists, subscribers, donors, etc. responded?
We put out a recent survey to check in with our patrons regarding their feelings about digital content and the possibility of returning to the theatre, etc. Our audience seems to feel largely positive about digital content, and surprising to me, didn’t report having complete Zoom fatigue. Also, the idea of seeing something outdoors later this summer with appropriate distancing and safety measures in place seems to be something many folks would entertain, provided it falls within recommended guidelines of the moment. We’ve had donations in response to the pandemic/Giving Tuesday, for which we are so grateful, and we are waiting to see how foundation support will be impacted, as many of the big, local foundations have generously invested a great deal in COVID-19 relief funding. I think artists are hungry for work, but wary of pushing anything ahead of safety. As an actor (not representing Summit), I have participated in quite a few digital readings, both available to the public and privately with other artists, and my sense is actors want to be acting, but know we all need to wait until it is safe for us to gather again.
How has the pandemic impacted you personally?
My now 3-year-old (as of May 11) son Isaiah is no longer in daycare, of course, so that has had a huge impact on our home/work lives. Both my wife Sally and I thankfully have jobs where we can do a lot remotely, but are now splitting care of our kiddo and trying to maintain a one-hour-a-day limit on screen time for him, a limit I think I struggle with more than him some days. I don’t know how people with say, two kids, do it, let alone three or four! It has been lovely to get to spend so much creative, quality time with him, but it definitely impacts how much work we can get done and how much time we have for ourselves.
How have you spent your time in quarantine?
I’ve spent a lot of time with Isaiah playing games, doing puzzles and art projects, and going for walks. Other than that, my wife Sally and her mom are the only people with whom I’ve been in close proximity. I’ve done a few socially-distanced walks/visits with my family who lives close by. Most weeks, my wife and I have hosted a casual Zoom play-reading group one night a week just to be doing something that is “social,” but also feeding us creatively. I’ve been trying to read plays and have been working to maintain the organization logistically, as well as researching and brainstorming ideas for digital programming and future projects. Between our jobs, Sally and I have a lot of Zoom meetings we have to work around for each other. And again, lots of time with Isaiah 🙂
What is the pandemic teaching you?
Slow down. Simplify. Enjoy time with your wife and son. Appreciate nature. Daydream. Reflect. I do find myself dreaming of non-theatre creative projects like painting and writing and I’d like to find a way to make space for that in my life.
What is your hope for the “new normal.”?
My hope is this experience will reinvigorate our appreciation for in-person connection and for nature, and impress upon us how lucky we are to live on this beautiful planet. I have found myself looking at the birds more closely and other animals and trees and plants during this time. Part of that happens with kids I think, but it’s increased because of COVID-19. I hope this experience wakes us up to the absolute need to significantly change the way we think about and care for our planet.
What is your message to your fellow artists?
I love and appreciate artists and the sacrifices they make. And as I’ve heard others say, art is what so many of us are turning to right now to get through. Art is healing, art is a huge part of how we connect, how we learn to empathize, how we sort through our emotions and traumas. Artists have to be brave to tell their stories and share their vulnerabilities, often with complete strangers. They get paid so little to do so, and often don’t receive a lot of respect in turn. It is a difficult path to navigate to be a professional artist. I would say thank you and I hope you are able to find support and continue to find creative outlets for yourselves during this time.
What is your message to the public?
Well, we truly are all in this together and I hope we continue to make considerate decisions for ourselves and each other. Summit is here and will thankfully continue to be here and I hope we are able to produce and share content during this time that will uplift and enrich spirits. I can’t wait until we can all be together again at the theatre in person, but caring for each other by making smart and conservative choices is the most important thing right now in my opinion, and though difficult, the transition back to “normal” shouldn’t be rushed.
For information about Summit Performance Indianapolis, go to summitperformanceindy.com.