Indoor entertainment venues will be among the last businesses to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Now, these venues can open at limited capacities once certain public health benchmarks are achieved. But many local theater companies, most of which have been silent for over a year now, will have a difficult time operating at 25 to 33 percent capacity. Most have fewer than 100 seats to begin with and can’t meet expenses with a handful of audience members.
One local theater that has found novel ways of weathering the pandemic is Downtown Albuquerque’s The Box Performance Space and Improv Theatre. Last year, with audiences stuck at home and performers itching to be seen, The Box began streaming versions of its popular improv shows online. “This past year has been a tough one,” admits Box co-owner and Cardboard Playhouse Theatre Company artistic director Kristin Berg. “Our business is the art of bringing people together to enjoy an event and laugh together in person. With the COVID shutdown we were unable to do that, so for the first few months we really struggled with how to connect with our actors and audiences. It’s really why we started streaming weekly shows, to reach out to our audiences and connect with them.”
Two of the venue’s most popular improv troupes, The Show and One Night Stanleys, began broadcasting from their home computers and are now performing every week to eager online audiences. Based on the response, The Box has added other shows that are either weekly or twice a month, meaning there are new shows to see almost every night of the week.
“When we first started streaming, everyone was at home. Now that people are getting vaccinated and the gathering restrictions are opening up, we have started broadcasting live from The Box,” says Berg. Unwilling to settle for a now-standard Zoom chat format, The Box is using a multi-camera setup like TV sitcoms employ. “Our hope is to have all our improvisers together in person soon here on the stage and streaming. We now have a four-camera setup, so we can get more coverage of the action and hopefully make the audience feel like they are here.”
The Box does have plans to reopen its physical location (on First and Gold) when state rules allow. “We’ve stopped trying to anticipate when that will be, as the goal post keeps moving,” says Berg. “But once we get the go-ahead from the state that groups of more than 20 can gather, then we’ll publicize our plans.” Berg and co-owner Doug Montoya are in the process of replacing their seating with movable chairs that allow people to be more socially distanced.
For now, though, audiences can take in a comedy show live from The Box in the comfort of their own home. “We have developed quite a following from people across the country,” says Berg proudly. “In some cases on Twitch, we have international viewers. One is from Trinidad and Tobago!”
BOX: The Box streaming schedule: The One Night Stanleys perform every Friday at 8pm. The Show, every Saturday at 8pm. Your Favorite Gurl Gang, Mondays at 8pm. Actors Call Time with Carissa Mitchell/The Reel Blowhards Show with Phil and Kelsey alternating Tuesdays at 7pm. Sarah Kennedy and Friends, second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 7pm. The Cardboard Playhouse Quiz Show, every other Thursday at 7pm. Karaoke Four Five, weekly Fridays at 7pm. Sunday Night Special runs for four weeks in a row every other month at 6pm. All shows stream on Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. All are free to watch.