No shade intended on tech journalists, but one of the things I had come to relish about arts journalism in the age of the smartphone was the chance it gave me to get away from the ubiquitous screens that have threatened to turn our private spaces into Wall-E and our public spaces into Blade Runner, and to write about things in the actual world.
Well, now and for the foreseeable future, our worlds have shrunk, and we’re all tech journalists of a kind, as performance and narrative is mediated through the same computer screen I am typing on right now, with the occasional break for a Netflix show on a smart TV or a Sarah Cooper video on my phone.
Each week I do this, there seems to be a discernible trend of sorts. This week it’s short-play festivals, some of which have already kicked off. No time to waste—read on and click on what you like.
The 11th edition of one of the nation’s preemiment Black theatre incubators, the Fire This Time Festival, is already burning, with the spark lit on Aug. 2, James Baldwin’s birthday (his influential 1963 book The Fire Next Time inspired the festival’s name), and new 10-minute plays, recently filmed at Off-Off-Broadway’s Kraine Theatre, being released each day at 10 a.m. EST through Aug. 8. Unveiled so far are If Men Were Flowers, Jay Mazyck’s meditation on a softer side of masculinity, and Deneen Reynolds-Knott, Antepartum, about three women facing the broken expectations of their birth plans, two women find respite together. Next, on Tues., Aug. 4 at 10 a.m. EST, Mario (Mars) Wolfe’s Wish I Could P. (Pay It No Mind), a sort of fractured fairy tale; Wed., Aug. 5, at 10 a.m EST, Natyna Bean’s Assumed Positions, which invites to question how well we know those we love; Thurs., Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. EST, Tyler English-Beckwith’s Maya and Rivers, about two lovebirds fleeing a dying planet to rendezvous on the moon; Fri., Aug. 7 at 10 a.m. EST, Cyrus Aaron’s Panopticon, in which two middle-aged Bed Stuy residents reflect on changes in their neighborhood; and Sat., Aug. 8 at 10 a.m. EST, Niccolo Aeed’s One Morning Soon, which follows a new religion as it grows and changes. (All seven plays will keep streaming on the ALL ARTS streaming app, also here on YouTube).
Yet another fest of rolls out this week, with the third annual SolFest: A Latinx Theater Festival, courtesy of the Sol Project, a national theatre initiative dedicated to amplifying Latinx voices and building a body of work for the new American theatre. Produced in partnership with Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (Pregones/PRTT) and in collaboration with the Play At Home initiative and North Star Projects, SolFest 2020: Virtual Edition kicks off tonight, Mon., Aug. 3 at 7:30 EST, with a sneak peek of Torched!, a new musical by Rosalba Rolón and Desmar Guevara, among other offerings. On Tues., Aug. 4 at 7:30 EST, the Sol Project and North Star Projects will feature a night of conversations, art sharing, and new work from Latinx storytellers from different artistic perspectives and mediums including Bright Spots, a tribute by Teatro Luna artistic director Alexandra Meda in honor of the memory of actor, director, playwright, producer, and Sol Project honorary board member Diane Rodriguez, who died earlier this year; a conversation and art-share presentation with Miranda Gonzalez, writer of Back in the Day, an ’80s house music dance-ical; a live performance of I Don’t Speak Spanish by poet Alexis Elisa Macedo; Caldo De Mosca (Housefly Soup), a conversation and artshare presentation with Jesus Mario Contreras; a presentation of 20 After 20: A Mock Into the Future (Part One), Christin Eve Cato’s mockumentary about the Black & Brown Guerilla movement; a sneak peek of Carla’s Quince, an immersive virtual theatre experience to mobilize the Latinx vote. And on Wed., Aug. 5 at 7:30 EST, the final evening of SolFest features presentations of three short plays commissioned as part of the Play at Home initiative: Virginia Grise’s Soñar es luchar, juliany taveras’s the human is sad; let’s start a band, and Cándido Tirado’s Magic Garden. To register for these free events, go to www.solproject.org.
Also rolling out in installments is the Second Virtual Playmakers’ Intensive: Voices From the Great Experiment, a new-play effort from New York-based disability company Theater Breaking Through Barriers. Streaming live each night through Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m. EST on YouTube and 8:15 p.m. EST on Facebook are eight original plays created for and rehearsed entirely on the Zoom platform. The first tonight, Mon., Aug. 3, is The Olympians by Fareeda Ahmed; on Tues., Aug. 4 is Sing by by Khalil LeSaldo; on Wed., Aug. 5 is Enrique Huili’s 3 Stops From Loop Tape Station; on Thurs., Aug. 6 is Christopher Chan Roberson’s M-O-U-S-E; on Fri., Aug. 7 is Chris Phillips’s Cloudbusting; on Sat., Aug. 8 is Jeff Tabnick’s What If You Read My Plays; on Sun., Aug. 9 is Tatiana G. Rivera’s (UNTITLED); and on Mon., Aug. 10 is Monet Marshall’s 3 Gods on a Zoom.
Even a pandemic can’t stop the eternal let’s-start-a-theatre-company impulse. Case in point, Talia Light Rake, a furloughed artistic office assistant of Manhattan Theatre Club, who responded to her down time by founding an online theatre company with colleagues called PlayDate, which has commissioned playwrights to create plays specifically for the computer screen. Their virtual new-play festival has already had two installments, but there’s one more this coming Sun., Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. EST, featuring the plays Hang-Ups by Sarah Groustra, featuring Hayley Orrantia and Marcus Scribner, and Aut Viam Inveniam Aut Faciam by Roseanna Zerambo, featuring Meg DeLacy and Rebecca Creskoff. Tickets start with a suggested donation of $5. Playdate is also hosting an Emerging Playwrights Summit 10th through 12th grade writers, Sun., Aug. 9th-Sat., Aug. 15 over Zoom.
On Wed., Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. EST Pittsburgh’s Real/Time Interventions offers episode 2 of Associate, billed as “equal parts talk show, game show, happening, and salon.” This crowd-sourced creative experience brings together award-winning artists who use free association to mine their subconscious in real time, with help from the online audience, and collectively create what a press release calls “a vibrant pile of imagery and new connections,” all while a “prime associator” works behind the scenes to create an original work, to be unveiled at the end of the hour. This episode’s “associators” include Pittsburgh playwright TJ Young, jazz musician and Pitt professor Dr. Aaron Johnson, artist/illustrator Marcel L. Walker, and Austin-based interdisciplinary theatre artist Zell Miller III. It’s free but you should register here (and for a complete calendar of online arts events by Pittsburgh-based artists, go here).
Another Pittsburgh effort bowing this week is Homegrown Stories, an initiative launched by Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse and City Theatre Company to support artists and alumni. In June, the theatres commissioned five playwrights to write 10-minute plays for the digital medium in response to our current world, and now a company of Point Park alumni and Pittsburgh-based artists will now present a one-night-only digital reading of the resulting works followed by a talkback with the creative team, on Thurs., Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m. EST. The plays include I Wanna Say by Ngozi Anyanwu, directed by Raecine Singletary; When Things Get Bad, At Least We Have Each Other by Matt Pelfrey, directed by Kyle Haden; Helicopters by Tammy Ryan, directed by Rachel Stevens; Under by Mark Clayton Southers, directed by Kyle Haden; and In the Macro by Marcus Stevens, directed by Rachel Stevens. Tickets are free but registration is required.
The song cycle Songs From an Unmade Bed, created in 2005 by playwright Mark Campbell and 18 composers, has taken on new resonance in a time of lockdown and scarcity, and Tony winner BD Wong aims to explore those new levels. Wong has reconceived the piece with his husband, videographer Richert Schnorr, as a collection of music videos reflecting life during the COVID-19 pandemic. The video will stream here Mon., Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. EST, and donations raised during the live stream will go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’s COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund.
Windows of Opportunity
Since May, the Homebound Project has enlisted its share of celebrities and theatre veterans to create new plays online and raise $100,000 to date for No Kid Hungry, a national campaign to end childhood hunger. This week is the project’s final bow, airing from Wed., Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. through Sun., Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. EST, and it’s going out with a bang, with a special appearance by Janelle Monáe and Billy Shore, executive director of Share Our Strength, the organization behind No Kid Hungry. The lineup of players, working off the prompt “homemade,” is illustrious as well: Brian Cox and Nicole Ansari-Cox in a work by Melis Aker, directed by Tatiana Pandiani; Joslyn DeFreece in a work by Lloyd Suh, directed by Colette Robert; Lena Dunham performing her own work, directed by Maggie Burrows; Ryan J. Haddad in a work by Christopher Oscar Peña, directed by Jaki Bradley; Daniel K. Isaac in a work by Sylvia Khoury; Andy Lucien in a work by Donnetta Lavinia Grays; Laurie Metcalf in a work by Stephen Karam; Kelli O’Hara in a work by Lindsey Ferrentino, directed by Scott Ellis; Austin Pendleton in a work by Craig Lucas, directed by Pam MacKinnon; Cesar J. Rosado in a work by Basil Kreimendahl, directed by Samantha Soule; Amanda Seyfried in a work by Catya McMullen, directed by Jenna Worsham; and Johnny Sibilly in a work by Korde Arrington Tuttle, directed by Jenna Worsham. Tickets to view the whole program are $10 and can be purchased here.
Two California theatres are offering another way to virtually engage theatre lovers over a longer term: book clubs. Berkeley’s Central Works has started a monthly Script Club, and for episode #3, they’re offering Patricia Milton’s Bamboozled, free to read on their site starting Tues., Aug. 4. Readers who peruse Milton’s play—inspired by the thorny true story of some contested Civil War heirlooms—are invited to send in questions for the playwright, who will answer them and discuss her play with comedian Chelsea Bearce in a recorded conversation that will air on the theatre’s website on Tues., Aug. 25.
And at PCPA/Pacific Conservatory Theatre in Santa Maria, Calif., literary associate Emily Trask is leading the monthly Rediscovery Reading Club, in which participants receive a copy of a classic play, along with discussion questions and list of pivotal scenes to consider, then gather over Zoom to discuss it and watch select scenes performed by PCPA artists. This month’s offering is Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s Sueño; Life Is a Dream, the 17th-century Spanish Golden Age masterpiece about the fate and free will of an imprisoned Polish prince. Sign-up begins Mon., Aug. 10, and two live discussions will be offered Mon., Aug. 31 at 4 and 7 p.m. PST.
And last but certainly not least: The concept of a nine-episode mystery musical caught our attention, and so did the stellar cast assembled for A Killer Party: A Murder Mystery Musical, which launches on Wed., Aug. 5. It includes Jeremy Jordan (as himself, apparently), Laura Osnes, Miguel Cervantess, and Carolee Carmlello, among others. In addition to Jordan playing himself, the character names give some idea of the tone: Detective Case, Varthur McArthur, Cameron Mitchelljohn, Vivika Orsonwelles, and George Murderer. Each episode runs about 6-8 minutes and features music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and book by Kait Kerrigan. The price for the whole series is $12.99 (but those who purchase before the Aug. 5 release date will pay just $9.99).
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