Mirrorbox Theatre Presents: ‘The Parking Lot'
CSPS Legion Arts parking lot -- opens Friday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m., $40/vehicle
Given the speed with which new theater companies crop up in Eastern Iowa, Scot and Marcia Hughes can perhaps be forgiven for not having shared their talents with absolutely all of them. But the number missing from their resumes is remarkably small.
“Since moving here,” Scot said in an email (the couple arrived in Cedar Rapids in 1991), “I’ve performed at Theatre Cedar Rapids, Riverside Theatre, City Circle Theatre Company, Iowa City Community Theatre, RHCR Theatre, Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, Giving Tree Theatre and Classics at Brucemore, as well as a virtual performance with Old Creamery Theatre Company this past spring.”
Marcia’s list is nearly identical: Her Brucemore experience is with the Children’s Summer Theatre rather than the Classics series, and she has yet to add RHCR — but she has one up on Scot, having performed several times with Mirrorbox Theatre. This September, Scot will make his Mirrorbox debut alongside his wife of nearly 32 years in that theater’s (and the Hughes’) first foray back into in-person performance since COVID-19 hit: The Parking Lot, by Adam Szymkowicz.
“We were still in the first month of the pandemic when I saw an image on Instagram where a set designer sketched out their idea for a parking lot stage surrounded by cars, and I just knew we had to try anything at our disposal to make theatre in a way that’s safe,” Mirrorbox founder and The Parking Lot director Cavan Hallman said in an email.
Mirrorbox has performed work by Szymkowicz before. His The Wooden Heart was part of their renowned Out the Box online series in late May. The theater worked closely with him on that reading, and when he finished up The Parking Lot in mid-July, he reached out “to gauge our interest,” Hallman said. “When Adam shared his script with us, it was apparent that this was the direction we needed to go and that we couldn’t miss an opportunity to present the work of such an acclaimed writer.”
The play is written specifically to allow the cast, crew and audience to remain safe in pandemic times. It’s set in a parking lot, allowing for drive-in viewers (for the Mirrorbox production, taking place in the CSPS Hall parking lot, audiences will tune in over FM radio to listen to the actors, with vehicle windows open no more than 3″). And the characters — a married couple contemplating divorce — are intended to be cast as actors who live together, minimizing risk to the performers.
Although Marcia and Scot met through theater (cast as Chelsea and Bill in a production of On Golden Pond in Ottumwa, Iowa), they have “have rarely enjoyed the opportunity to work together on stage,” they said. They’ve only shared the stage/screen four times in Eastern Iowa.
“While our children were growing up we generally ‘took turns’ in order to make sure one of us was available for child care needs,” they said. Also, Marcia tends toward musicals (some of her most memorable recent roles include Miss Hannigan in Annie and Sara Jane Moore in Assassins) while Scot leans more toward plays (with favorite roles including Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird and Col. Nathan Jessep in A Few Good Men).
It was November 2019 when Marcia last performed before a live audience (Orange Julius, Mirrorbox) and since August 2019 for Scot (The Mousetrap, Giving Tree Theater). Although they’ve been active virtually, those are long stretches for actors who have been performing most of their lives. Scot looks began his career with church Christmas pageants as a child in Selma, Iowa, and Marcia has been acting since childhood as well.
“I have always embraced opportunities to connect with an audience from stage,” she said.
The Parking Lot offers the perfect opportunity for the couple to make their return, albeit with significant differences. Since they’re already in each other’s “bubble,” they’re able to rehearse and perform together unmasked while in-scene. But offstage, all cast and crew will maintain a strict 6-foot distance and wear personal protective equipment (provided by the theater). Before each rehearsal and performance, there will be temperature checks (anyone over 100.4 degrees will be sent home) and all props and contact surfaces will be disinfected.
Prior to starting in-person rehearsals, though, preparation for the show was rather routine for Scot and Marcia.
“Living together makes it safer for actors to do a show in this time of COVID-19 but we’re each maintaining our usual routines for line work and preparation,” Marcia said.
Scot added, “I have been trying to do the bulk of my memorization work on my own. That’s the way I typically have done it; I didn’t see a reason to change that method just because I live with the other performer in the show.”
Of course, in a struggle shared by many in the community, they were thwarted even in those gestures toward normalcy by the August derecho that savaged Cedar Rapids, having to manage the stress of 10 days without power or internet and with downed trees in their yard.
Even in the effort to return to what’s recognizable, though, there is a gesturing toward the future. Things that are happening in theater now are not merely placeholders, but will need to be incorporated into the new normal going forward.
“I don’t believe that we will again be able to experience the energy of a crowded theatre or concert hall on opening night until a proven vaccine has been widely administered,” Marcia said. “But artists and audiences will always find a way to come together because we have to feed our souls with art! And during this time when it hasn’t been safe to be closely together physically, we’ve found new ways to make and present art.”
“Many companies are looking for creative solutions to make art, even if it isn’t quite theater as we know it, during the pandemic,” Hallman said. “And while nothing can or should replace live in-person performance, there are some wonderful benefits to presenting work in new ways, namely accessibility.”
He also pointed to a passion for new work that has been solidified in the community. “It really seemed at the beginning of the pandemic there was a huge amount of enthusiasm for the opportunity to watch archived productions from big institutions like the National Theatre. But the programs that have maintained momentum are the ones that are focusing on new work.” Hallman hopes that those silver linings become new hallmarks of theater.
“People need art,” Scot said. “They need that emotional outlet, that experience of seeing other people’s lives and experiences and struggles and triumphs played out in front of them. Not to mention music! People need songs and singing and music as part of performance art — we can’t go on as humanity without that in some way, shape or form. It just can’t happen.”
“Continuing to support the arts now — both organizations and the individuals — is critical,” she said.
Genevieve Trainor, arts editor at Little Village, is excited about the future of theater. “Yesterday was plain awful, but that’s not now, that’s then.” This article was originally published in Little Village issue 286