Theater and the risk of breath, by Kari Ginsburg

The Helen Hayes Award–winning actor-singer-director faces a fact.

There is a moment in theater that I live for.

I’m onstage, responding truthfully in the moment as if for the first time, embodying my skin as another person and existing in a brilliant atmospheric-environmental design. I arrive at a certain line and It Happens: collectively, the entire room breathes.

In that one inhalation-exhalation, I know the audience is with me. That breath is the agreement that we’ll live in the imagined world together, that we’ll all suspend disbelief and go on the journey of laughter or sorrow or rage. The audience is trusting me with their squishy nugget center for a couple of hours. In return, I promise to release them back to the outside world whole. It’s a sacred contract between artist and audience.

I miss that moment. Inhale. Exhale.

Science fact in a theater op-ed: COVID is an airborne virus.

That moment that I live for, I refuse to die from. I can’t put myself or the audience at risk.

Kari Ginsburg. Photo by DJ Corey.

I’ve been spending a lot of time coming to terms with how the pandemic has impacted all theater artists and administrators. From my actor point of view, I churn over:

  • Is a recorded Zoom reading theater or film? (It’s film)
  • If I’m doing enough to exercise my actor muscles? (Probably not)
  • Have I perfected my self-tape? (Nope)
  • Am I remaining relevant without seeming like a spammer weirdo? (Hi, I’m awkward)
  • Why aren’t we doing a better job taking care of each other? (This one gave me hives)

I’m reading articles about upstate productions with face shields and on-stage social distancing and reduced house capacity with a sense of dread and jealousy. I’m scrolling through casting notices for fall productions, thinking shame on them for asking actors and designers and administrators and audiences to put themselves at risk because we’re desperate to create, to earn, and to work.

“It’s a choice,“ the Facebook threads say. “Don’t tell people they can’t choose to work.”

What if we didn’t expect people to choose? What if we really spent this time healing and rebuilding our community? What if we created a revolution of knowledge to prevent future discrimination, harassment, and abuse? What if we build spaces of accountability and safety? What if we acknowledge that the #WeSeeYou authors did the hard work for us and we have the easy task of making it happen because it’s the right—and long overdue—thing to do?

Suppose we all take a deep, collective breath and choose each other. Inhale. Exhale.

This is a moment in theater to live for.

Kari Ginsburg is a Helen Hayes Award–winning DMV native with over 30 years on the stage. Kari has had the privilege of recently performing with Prologue Theatre, Spooky Action Theater, The Keegan Theatre, Rorschach Theater, NextStop Theatre, 1st Stage, and more. For a full résumé and upcoming projects, visit her website. Outside of theater, Kari is one of the first 500 recipients of the globally recognized Certified Change Management Professional accreditation, and she is a founding member of the Association of Change Management Professionals. Kari is also a certified Civility Instructor through ELI  and a certified professional and life coach through the Academy of Creative Coaching. Kari is a proud board member of the Actors Center.


  1. Kari, I fully respect your thoughts on this subject. I would like to offer mine as well. My husband is part owner of a tiny theater company. The rent is high and it is owed whether or not there are shows going on. We have done online productions via Zoom and Webinar, but we have not been able to generate enough to cover our rent. I am not ashamed the we are producing a show which goes up LIVE and via Live Stream next month. When we held auditions, actors knew what was at stake. They knew the risk. When we cast the show, again, we made sure they knew. We have done all we can to keep them safe and to keep our audiences safe. We need this to stay in business. The cast WANTS this too. This is not ideal for any of us, but we are making the best of it, making the best choices for us. We are going to lose money on this show, but at least we’re still in business.


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