As with many of the stories we’ve heard over the course of 2020 and into 2021, March of 2020 brought the everyday activities of Greasepaint to a halt — the auditions, the rehearsals, the performances. Everything that makes up Greasepaint’s reason for being. In the spirit of the old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movies, Greasepaint and its long-time executive director Maureen Watson did not allow the pandemic to prevent them from “putting on a show.”
What continues to be inspirational about the story of Greasepaint over the last year is not only the spirit of service — not only to the students but also to the community — but also the level of innovation that the organization brought to its activities. When it became impossible to perform in person, Watson and her team of volunteers developed a version of a drive-in movie theater — but for live theater. Using microphones for the cast, the theater troupe performed for an audience completely in their cars. When it became possible to perform outside, Watson and company set up in Greasepaint’s parking lot and performed to small, socially distanced audiences set up in circles made up of lawn chairs. The company then graduated to an outdoor stage — built on Greasepaint’s grounds and fully licensed by the City of Scottsdale — and began to perform plays, showcases and radio plays, as the singing involved in musicals was thought to increase the transmission of the virus.
Like many other youth theaters, Greasepaint offers annual summer camps, which could not possibly go forward in the 2020 environment. To overcome the by-now familiar obstacles, the company developed Zoom summer camps and hand-delivered goody bags to the student campers — filled not only with treats but with props and related material to make the experience of participating in a performing arts camp fun and effective despite the absence of human contact.
When things started to slowly return to normal, Greasepaint changed along with the environment. In the early months of 2021, when it became possible to bring small groups of people together in a closed environment, Watson and company decided to use the pandemic and its continuing restrictions as a way of getting everyone involved — students, parents, donors and audience members. To ensure that the audience could be properly socially distanced, the performance space needed, well, more space. So the Greasepaint community removed all its 190 aging and fixed seats; got rid of them to make way for fold-out chairs. Now the theater had a way of allowing its audience to attend live performances but to do so in a socially distanced and socially responsible manner.
Greasepaint is also not an organization that would allow the absence of permanent furniture to stand in the way of planning for its upcoming full house in September. Just as Watson and the volunteers continued to innovate throughout 2020, the Greasepaint parents have raised the funds necessary for the replacement of the seating with 190 brand-new seats.