Corona-Style Theater

Continuing to “play”
despite a pandemic
By Emily Watkins & Misha Johnson

The arts are of critical importance right now. Art awakens curiosity and allows us to be in the moment with our thoughts and feelings. It also reminds us of our humanity, bringing us necessary beauty in times of struggle.

The Rochester Civic Theatre is proud to return to the stage with its second post-pandemic live play: “The Syringa Tree” by Pamela Guin. The first, “Romeo and Juliet,” was restaged in a COVID-19-friendly format in July. Theaters have been allowed to reopen at 25% capacity, which for the Civic means 75 masked audience members can be spread throughout the theater. The Civic is also offering the chance to watch a recorded version of upcoming plays from the comfort of their own homes.

Evocative and Hauntingly Beautiful
“The Syringa Tree” takes place against the backdrop of apartheid-era South Africa. The story is told from the point of view of Elizabeth, a 6-year-old child who doesn’t yet understand the tensions and conflicts in the household she shares with her parents, her brother and their beloved Black nanny and her child. According to the synopsis of the play, “The story of these families’ destinies spans four generations, from early apartheid to the present-day free South Africa.” 

Innocence is particularly hard to hold on to for the privileged white girl at the core of this story. Uncomfortable questions (why do we love a land capable of atrocities simply because it is “home”?) give way to uncomfortable answers—and devastating conclusions. Timely, given the racial tensions we are living, this play reminds us of the dangers of ignoring racism and allowing unfair systems to continue to evolve without asking the people they affect to help inform them. 

Although there are 22 different characters, some of whom are portrayed at different ages, this version will be cast with only two actresses playing all of them.

A Reset for the Civic
The Civic is starting a new chapter in its 69-year history with Misha Johnson as its interim managing director. Johnson along with five new board members’ will work to return to a community theater focused on local talent. Go to for more information and to reserve your ticket to attend in-person or virtually. υ

Note: The editor is one of the newest members of the board, currently serving as its president.