Ira David Wood III Talks Theatre in the Year of COVID

(Triangle Trend) — Ira David Wood III is without question an iconic member of the North Carolina artistic community. He has been the executive director of Raleigh’s Theatre in the Park since 1972. He conceived of and continues to produce and star in the beloved musical-comedy version of A Christmas Carol, a stage production that has graced Raleigh (and Durham, more recently) venues since 1974. Since 2013 he has been the artistic director of North Carolina outdoor drama, The Lost Colony. He is a published author and playwright and has won multiple artistic awards. 

So, for this stalwart of the artistic community, what has life been like during the year of COVID-19? 

Wood leads off by telling me he is writing his second novel. He noted that since writing is a solitary activity, the age of corona has been particularly conducive to writing. He pointed to a marked increase in family projects and general togetherness. In that sense, he said, the pandemic has been a real gift. 

So, as Wood puts it, riding the COVID-coaster since March has been a challenge, and he is taking the good days with the tough ones and trying to find joy each day. He misses visiting with people, he misses hugging and laughing face to face. As a member of the theatre, he is used to being with people and engaging with them, both on the production side and when performing. He is used to connecting with people. 

He jokes that once we’re back to normal, “There is going to be a lot of hugging, so get ready because it’s gonna be weird.” 

In addition to reveling in the new-found bounty of family time, Wood said he was also reconnecting with long lost friends and classmates via ZOOM, some of those friendships dating back 50+ years. 

Wood put it poignantly, “Life will find a way.” He notes that you can “wrap a blanket of solitude and depression around yourself” or you can look for the positives and look for a way to stay connected. 

When it became apparent that live shows were not in the cards at Theatre in the Park, Wood said they moved to a live-streaming model whereby they recorded a one-time, live execution of the featured play and then streamed it via a link on their site in a pay-to-view manner. This model caught on and will continue to be used until there is a return to live productions. Wood noted they have an extensive collection of previously recorded productions to stream and are likely to add a live-streaming option even after the constraints of the pandemic are lifted. 

Theatre in the Park’s annual holiday gift to the Triangle, A Christmas Carol, was suspended for 2020 although Wood noted that they will still be live-streaming (also pay-to-view) an enhanced recorded copy of the 2019 production. With the addition of an intro from father and

son and a video scrapbook that will take the viewer along for a behind-the-scenes historical tour of A Christmas Carol, the tradition continues. 

So, while there is certainly sadness about not producing the annual live version of this holiday staple, Wood noted that by delivering a live-streamed version, the number of people who see it in 2020 is likely to be historic. And it’s quite likely that the live streaming option remains in place post-COVID. 

Wood is excited about the future, about “expanding our outreach and our ability to connect positively with the audience”—an audience that Wood is quick to point out is absolutely starved for the arts. 

He pointed out that we’ve been bottled up for over 7 months and the arts give people a chance to release these bottled up feelings, whether through tears of sadness or tears of joy. He shared that the arts transcend barriers, those of race, color, creed, ethnicity, etc. After a theatrical experience, Wood said, you leave a better person. The arts, Wood continued, help people find the keys to unlock their heart. He noted that this idea has been a major discovery of his as he has navigated the pandemic. 

Ira David Wood III said that life will find a way. And, for Wood, life is about feeling emotions and connecting with people, engaging with people. During these unprecedented times, isn’t it a comfort to have an artist who embraces the community as much as the community embraces him? 

“God bless us, everyone.” 


More information on Theatre in the Park here.

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