It’s only been a few days since the Disney+ streaming debut of Hamilton not only introduced a mass audience to one of the great American musicals (and to the fierce, long-standing debate around its merits and its politics), but also ignited fresh interest in, and debate around, the notion of filmed stage shows, a naturally hot topic in this time of indefinite lockdown. Will watching filmed plays from our couches at home ever replace the live experience—and would we even want it to? For what it’s worth, I subscribe to the notion, advanced by several and borne out by my own experience, that filmed performance viewing whets the appetite for the live experience.
But whether it was the Twitter thread kicked off by drag performer Eva Ziegfield urging the theatre powers-that-be to “open up the fucking archives” or The New York Times’s FAQ-style explanation of why that won’t happen any time soon, you would think that the only theatre worth arguing about or coveting takes place within a few blocks of Manhattan. We at American Theatre know that’s stuff and nonsense, and our inboxes are proof of it: There’s great theatre of all kinds made all over the U.S., and these days we need not travel to see it.
What follows is but a sampling of some of the online and otherwise virtual programming on offer in the coming week from cultural institutions big and small across the U.S., listed by date. Some are ongoing, some are viewable whenever you want; others are strictly by appointment, for those who miss the sense of event around going to the theatre (and who among us doesn’t?).
Debuting This Week
Not all of the new alternative performance is visual. To wit, on July 7, Playwrights Horizons debuts Episode 7 of its new anthological scripted fiction podcast Soundstage, with The Edge of Night, a new short musical by Obie winner Kirsten Childs (Bella: An American Tall Tale, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin) about a Black woman who finds escape from the realities of Southern segregation in the 1950s by following her favorite soap opera. The play is directed by Awoye Timpo; all Soundstage episodes can be found here and heard for free.
Synetic Theater’s digital adaptation of The Decameron is such an ambitious undertaking it had to be postponed from an earlier announced date. It bows at last on July 10 as a 10-part streaming series. Different artists have each adapted one novella apiece from this collection by Giovanni Boccaccio, written in response to the Black Plague of the 14th century, and audiences can choose their own path through the serially appearing program, which ranges from the erotic to the tragic. This designed-for-digital production will stream on the Synetic website, with pay-what-you-can ticket options starting at $10.
Talking to kids about what’s going on in the world is never easy, but right now, parents have a lot of explaining to do. Playwright Idris Goodwin’s recently unveiled “Free Play: Open Source Scripts Toward an Antiracist Tomorrow,” a group of short plays parents and kids can act out with each other, was one helpful step, but a big part of these plays’ purpose—as with all theatre, really—was to create conversation about the subject matter. To that end, on July 8 at 7:00 p.m. EST, TheatreWorks USA will present “Telling Our Stories and Talking About Race,” a virtual reading of two of Goodwin’s plays, followed by a community conversation intended for families. Schele Williams, founding member of Black Theatre United, will read The Water Gun Song with her daughter Sayla Williams, and actor/writer/producer Bill Bellamy will read Nothing Rhymes With Juneteenth with his son Baron Bellamy. Playwright Goodwin will join the post-show discussion, alongside theatre director and educator NJ Agwuna, educator Jennifer Blue, and licensed social worker/family therapist Kelly Dumas. The free event requires an RSVP here. (It will also be streamed live here.)
That same night, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. EST, the Public Theater will unveil a live-streamed world premiere by docu-theatre masters Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank (The Exonerated, Aftermath, Coal Country). The Line, directed by Blank, is an up-to-the-minute piece about New York City’s first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can viewed here or on the Public’s YouTube page for free.
Also on July 8 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. EST, Premiere Stages will offer Rohina Malik’s Unveiled as a live Zoom webinar. In this acclaimed solo show, playwright/performer Malik plays five Muslim women navigating complex social issues in a post-9/11 world. Following each screening, Malik will host a live Q&A with all ticket holders. Tickets are just $10 but access to this special virtual presentation is limited to 100 patrons per performance.
In a unique international venture, Hershey Felder—creator of a series of solo musical bios of great composers—will follow his successful May broadcast of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin with a live stream of Hershey Felder: Beethoven show, July 12 at 5 pm PST. He’ll be streaming from the wee hours in Florence, Italy, where he lives and has formed an alliance with Florentine cinema group Montagni Audiovisivi, the English-language magazine The Florentine, and American broadcaster Rich Flier to produce high-quality streaming arts programming for international audiences. The Beethoven play, directed by Joel Zwick, features the composer’s music and text by Felder, based on the accounts of an apprentice, Gerhard von Breuning. Tickets are $55, with proceeds benefiting U.S. theatres and arts organizations, including Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, Minn.
One last time, by popular demand, on July 12 at 8 p.m., the Cherry Orchard Festival will present State vs. Natasha Banina, a live Zoom interactive theatre art experiment from Boston’s Arlekin Players Theatre, directed by Igor Golyak and featuring Arlekin’s leading actress, Darya Denisova. Based on a play by contemporary Russian playwright, Yaroslava Pulinovich’s Natasha’s Dream, it places audiences in a virtual trial of the title character’s crime of passion. Tickets are free but Zoom spots are limited.
Last but not least is the Public Theater’s valiant salvaging of one of its canceled Shakespeare in the Park productions, director Saheem Ali’s rendition of Richard II, starring Andre Holland, which has been turned into a four-night serial on WNYC radio (also streaming nationwide on WNYC.org), July 13-16 at 8 p.m. EST. This verse drama about leadership and lost sovereignty is dedicated by the Public and its artists to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hamilton wasn’t the only broadcast making waves over the weekend: For those in the know, so was Yaël Farber’s new production of Lorraine Hansberry’s late, criminally under-produced play Les Blancs, screening for free on the NT YouTube page through July 9.
Brooklyn’s Molière in the Park had its inaugural summer plans scotched by COVID, but that didn’t stop it from creating a virtual hit with a streamed performance of Tartuffe, available for free on YouTube through July 12. Performed in Richard Wilbur’s translation and directed by MIP’s founding AD Lucie Tiberghien, it stars Raul Esparza and Samira Wiley. In a nice touch, MIP is offering the option to choose closed captions in French or in English.
New York City’s Mint Theater Company had already dipped its toe in captured performances, and now its “Summer Stock Streaming Festival” is offering archival recordings of past productions, all available for free on the theatre’s website through July 19. Culled from its catalogue of seldom-revived vintage plays, these include an American domestic drama, The Fatal Weakness by George Kelly, directed by Jesse Marchese; high-brow silliness from England in The New Morality by Harold Chapin, directed by Jonathan Bank; and a suspenseful comedy featuring an all-female cast from Ireland, Women Without Men by Hazel Ellis, directed by Jenn Thompson.
Meanwhile, taking a page from NT Live or the Stratford Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has launched a video channel, O!, where they’re offering archived videos of past performances for a small rental price and a limited viewing window. First, running through July 22, is Karen Zacarías’s The Copper Children, directed by Shariffa Ali, about a 1904 custody case with huge implications for American race, religion, and law; and running July 9-22 is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in a production by Joseph Haj. Tickets are normally $15 but readers of American Theatre can use the discount code ATOSFJULY2020 for $3 off; the $12 rental fee entitles you to a 48-hour viewing window.
And in This Week’s Installment…
A few theatres are offering ongoing series of online event programming, including Pregones/PRTT’s Remojo 2020, a digital series designed to preview new works by Latinx artists every Monday night this summer, hosted by ensemble member Rosal Colon. The next broadcast, July 13 at 7:30 EST, will feature an excerpt from Alejandro Ramos’s Bitter Sweet, a look at the lives of three female writers inspired by the work of Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and Alejandra Pizarnik, and one from Gabriel Hernández’s Quarter Rican, a comedy about parenting and mixed heritage. Audiences can view these free events on Zoom, the company’s website, and additional digital platforms. RSVP is recommended.
And Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre offers We’re Still Here: A Virtual Cabaret each Thursday evening, a variety show with alternating hostesses, musical-theatre actors Terry Burrell and Courtenay Collins. It’s free on Alliance’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, with the next installment up July 9 at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Up for a While, But Why Wait?
Audio theatre powerhouse L.A. Theatre Works has made six recordings of plays by Black writers available to stream free on its website through Aug. 30, including Roger Guenveur Smith’s improvisatory A Huey P. Newton Story, Lonnie Elder III’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men; Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine; Katori hall’s The Mountaintop; Charlayne Woodard’s The Night Watcher, and Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly.
Chicago camp mavens Hell in a Handbag Productions have launched their first online show, and it’s a doozy. The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, Vol. 4 – LOCKDOWN!, written by David Cerda and directed by Spenser Davis, find the geriatric Fab Four in quarantine and at each others’ throats. It’s available for $20 from June 25 to Aug. 15 via either stage773.com or handbagproductions.org.
For something not strictly theatrical but not entirely unrelated, we found these virtual gallery tours of the August Wilson Cultural Center in Pittsburgh both eye-opening and heart-filling.
By the far most intriguing and counter-intuitive video project that came to our attention is happening at Chicago’s Court Theatre, where something called the Liminal Space simply involves a live-stream of the theatre’s empty stage, offered to viewers as “a space for quiet contemplation” of “all that has transpired between their theatre’s walls and their own ambitions for what theatre can be in the future.” The Court Theatre’s press release promises that this “solitude will be broken up by a series of curated pieces from Chicagoland artists and designers, transforming the still-standing set from Court’s canceled production of The Lady from the Sea into a canvas for broader expression in the months to come. Lighting, sound, and video will all be operated remotely to create activated moments during the 24/7 live video feed of Court’s Abelson Auditorium.” No dates are given, so if you crave a moment in a quiet theatre with the possibility of a big surprise—and doesn’t that describe any good night at the theatre?—go to CourtTheatre.org/theliminalspace or the theatre’s YouTube channel, where the stream “will continue, in perpetuity, until the theatre can begin live performances again.”
Creative credits for production photos: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj, scenic design: Sibyl Wickersheimer; costume design: Raquel Barreto; lighting design: Dawn Chiang; projection design: Victoria Sagady; composer: Jack Herrick; sound design: Joshua Horvath. Unveiled by Rohina Malik. Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Yaël Farber; design: Soutra Gilmour; lighting design: Tim Lutkin; music and sound: Adam Cork. The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, written by David Cerda, directed by Spenser Davis.