“Online theatre sucks,” my 11-year-old announced to me yesterday morning, as he prepared to log into the first session of a weeklong theatre camp, Showstoppers, provided free by Queens Theatre. This was a flareup of tween crankiness, it turns out—in fact he adored his first day of theatre games, choreography, and other imaginative activity on Zoom.
But I get where he’s coming from: A year ago at this time, he and his little brother were doing Showstoppers live at the theatre 20 minutes from our home, making up a show with new friends and learning the unique pleasure of organized play, i.e., sports for the rest of us. Also last summer we enjoyed a family visit to a pair of lovely tent productions at the idyllic Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. And of course, until March I was out at the theatre two or three nights a week as part of my job, occasionally with my boys in tow, as they enjoyed one of the few genuine luxuries I can afford them.
The difference between live and virtual for us, as I suspect is the case with you, isn’t in the quality of the performances or writing, or the level of commitment and creativity of the artists involved. It is instead the fundamental difference between going out and gathering with others, fellow citizens and fans and mostly friendly strangers, versus the experience of trying to approximate a sense of communion through the same screen where they play their Minecraft, surf YouTube, and chat with friends.
On the other hand, when I try to imagine the alternative—nothing for them to engage their growing minds and bodies, and in the case of us grown-ups, zero contact with the art form we love—I can easily make my son’s journey from “this sucks” to something more sanguine, more glass half full. This is what we have now, and for some time in the future in this backward country, and it’s more than simply “not nothing”; viewed the right way (i.e., with a good WiFi connection), it’s an embarrassment of riches.
As I dip into another highly selective list of online theatre offerings in the coming week from U.S. theatremakers big and small, I noticed an interesting trend. Though typically I can divide these between appointment-only viewing and limited streaming windows, even those that incorporate a live element are making the results viewable for some time.
Among those you can watch now, but for a limited time, is a 2010 production of Chuck Mee’s funky, freaky carnival ride Paradise Park, in a staging by Santa Monica, Calif.’s City Garage Theatre. It’s available for free through July 29 at midnight at City Garage’s YouTube channel. It’s directed Frédérique Michel, with design by Charles Duncombe.Reha Zemani, Troy Dunn, and Lena Kouyoumdjian in Chuck Mee’s “Paradise Park” at City Garage in 2010.
Also available to view, at least until the next installment drops on July 31 at 8 p.m. EST/2 p.m. HST, is the latest in the Reset Series, a series of short plays co-produced by two theatres in Queens, Conch Shell Productions and Braata Productions, and Kumu Kahua of Honolulu, designed to spotlight the work of artists who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in response to systemic racism and oppression in the U.S. The most recent installment features the plays I Cannot…, written and performed by Nyanda Cammock, directed by Teisha Duncan, Fa’aliga, written by Ren Nansen, directed by Hanna and Rose Ii-Epstein, and performed by Lelea’e “Buffy” Kahalepuna-Wong and Bobby Wilhelmson; Origami, written by Sean Choo, directed by Hanna and Rose Ii-Epstein, and performed by Dwight Sora; Chi Can’t Breathe, written by Alvin Eng and performed by Antonyio Artis; .25, written by Phanesia Pharel, directed by Regina Taylor, and performed by David Glover and Katie Croyle; and Shelter in Place, written and directed by Regina Taylor and performed by Marketta P. Wilde. Playwrights whose work will be featured in the final presentation this coming Friday include BIPOC playwrights Onyekachi Iwu, Jevonne Andy, Kiki Rivera, and Kimiye Everard.
In a fascinating live-capture-and-stream experiment, St. Louis’s Stray Dog Theatre recently recorded a performance of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero on their stage, with each actor inside an individual custom-built acting booth, and are offering that filmed performance for a limited time and audience, July 27, 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on July 31, CDT. It’s free but reservations are required, as participation is limited to the first 750 reservations; viewers will have 72 hours to finish watching once they begin streaming. Stray Dog artistic director Gary F. Bell directed the production.
Viewable beginning this Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 1-2 on Broadway on Demand is a staging of Jelani Memory’s A Kids Book About Racism, adapted by Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) artist Khalia Davis. Tempe, AZ.’s Childsplay is at the front of a group of 36 other TYA/USA member theatres all over U.S., alongside lead producers Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. More than just a performance, this event is designed to offer young children and families a way to engage in meaningful conversations about race, with educational materials developed by Seattle Children’s Theatre in collaboration with the Northwest African American Museum.
Debuting Wed., July 29, 8 p.m. EST but viewable online after that will be #WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest, an evening of short works by writers including Lee Edward Colston II, Nathan Alan Davis, Bianca Sams, and Aurin Squire, with directors including Steve H. Broadnax III, Carl Cofield, Patricia McGregor, Charles Randolph-Wright, and Tamara Tunie, and performers including Vanessa Bell Calloway, Kevin R. Free, Ty Jones, Patina Miller, Michele Shay, Will Swenson, and Lynn Whitfield. Proceeds will benefit the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Bail Project, Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD), BYP100 Education Fund, Forced Trajectory Project (FTP), the Justice Committee, and SONG. Though free to view here, donations are encouraged.
Also still up for viewing is the inaugural production in what amounts to a mini-season of plays from Red Bank, N.J.’s Two River Theater, Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, written and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. This revival of Two River’s acclaimed 2015 production debuted on Sunday but is available for free online (embedded above, also here) through Thursday, July 30 at 7 p.m. EDT. The rest of the series is no less auspicious: It includes Paul Oborn’s On Borrowed Time, directed by Joel Grey, with the first act on Wednesday, Aug. 5 and the second on Thursday, Aug. 6, both at 7 p.m. EDT; The Hombres by Tony Meneses, directed by Annie Tippe, on Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. EDT; Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England by Madeleine George, directed by Leigh Silverman, first act on Wednesday, Sept. 9 and the second act with Q&A on Thursday, Sept, 10, both at 7 p.m. EDT; and Romeo and Juliet , in a modern verse translation by Hansol Jung, directed by Chay Yew, first act on Wednesday, Sept. 30 and second act with Q&A on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. EDT. Tickets going forward are $25 per reading or $100 for the series of five readings, and include access to live post-reading Q&As with the artists involved, hosted on Zoom. All donations made to Two River Theater in support of the series will be matched by a generous donor, to benefit five organizations, include the Actors Fund, the Audre Lorde Project, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice and the Ruben Santiago-Hudson Fine Arts Learning Center. More information here.
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