Social media is not the ideal place to find answers to deep philosophical questions—this is surely not breaking news to you—but it is certainly one place that they get raised. A few days ago monologuist Mike Daisey tweeted this:
Is “theater you can stream” theater?
Hint: no. It is not.
— Mike Daisey (@mdaisey) August 15, 2020
This struck me as painting with way too broad a brush, but it did get me thinking, so in a Facebook conversation on the same topic, I posed the rhetorical questions: Is a record music? Is a book poetry? Clearly the kinds of live performance being offered online while the pandemic keeps us away from large-group gathering vary widely, from captured proscenium stagings to made-for-Zoom hybrids to what is essentially radio theatre—a form, by the way, that no one would deny is a kind of theatre (would they?). Also clearly, we are all craving live, in-person communion in a real space—some of us so much that we are finding and celebrating it—and no one would claim that online/virtual/streaming theatre is theatre, full stop, no asterisks or adjectives need apply. But we shouldn’t confuse the practice and the medium with the art form—something the form-breaking, ever-questing Daisey, of all people, ought to know. Theatre folks are making work in other media for now, and naturally it’s going to resemble theatre as much or more than it does other forms that come through this media. (It may even lead to new innovations, as the recording studio did for music.)
This week’s offerings, which include a certain number of 19th Amendment celebrations, run the full gamut of answers to the always-worth-asking what-is-theatre question, from watch parties to Zoom readings to live streams from inside actual theatres.
MJ Kaufman’s Sensitive Guys, about divisions among college student groups over sexual assault, was supposed to have opened at Houston’s Stages in March—its final dress rehearsal was on March 13, in fact. That production is making its belated Zoom debut this week, now online through Sun., Aug. 23, accompanied by a “making of” documentary about the challenges of transferring the production to a virtual medium. Directed by Leslie Swackhamer, the stream is free but reservations are required.
Meanwhile Arizona Theatre Company is kicking off a lineup of digital plays with Alma, a new play by Benjamin Benne about a mother and daughter and the American dream, available here from Tues., Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. through Sat., Aug. 22 at 5 p.m. MST (as well as on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo). A variety of programming around the play also will be available. There is no charge to view the play, which is directed by Catherine María Rodríguez, but donations are encouraged and will be greatly appreciated.
Chicago’s indispensable Lookingglass Theatre Company revisits a Windy City boating tragedy, and one of its acclaimed productions, with a watch party screening of Eastland: An Original Musical, this Thurs., Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. CT. This free online fundraiser, part of the company’s Chicago Stories initiative, will feature an archival video of the 2012 production with music by ensemble member Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, directed by Amanda Dehnert, and will be followed by a post-show conversation with Pluess and creative team member Andrew White. RSVP here.
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison, N.Y., is just one of many lovely outdoor summer theatres that had to forgo live performances this summer, but also like many, has turned to the interwebs to share their artistry. In this case they didn’t try to replace their summer season but instead have mounted their HVSF2 Reading Series, which typically takes place at the Philipstown Depot Theatre in upstate New York, on Vimeo. Among three contemporary adaptations of classics—last week’s was Will Power’s take on Richard III, titled Seize the King, and next week’s is Heidi Armbruster’s Untitled Agatha Project—is this week’s Paradise Lost, a spin on Milton’s epic poem by Erin Shields, directed by Sara Holdren, starring Nance Williamson as Satan. It airs Thurs., Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m. EST; there’s a suggested donation of $20 per viewer.
A bit further south, Staunton, Va.’s American Shakespeare Center has been among the first professional nonprofit theatres to return to the stage, with a number of health precautions though without Equity’s sign-on. Now, for audiences still not sold on in-person theatre (or outside driving range), ASC’s “2020 SafeStart Season,” a repertory of Twelfth Night and Othello, will be available for synchronous online viewing in partnership with Marquee TV under the moniker BlkFrs LIVE, after ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse, where indoor socially distanced performances are currently running, as well as outdoors on the lawn of the Blackburn Inn and Conference Center. The company’s lean, 95-minute Twelfth Night will stream Fri., Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. EDT, and Othello the same time a week later. Both shows, a press release promises, will be shot in “four-camera cinema quality.” Pay-per-view digital tickets are $20 per household, and each video will be available for on-demand purchase for 16 days after its respective livestream. Educational partners can purchase digital performances for their classroom.
Read all about it: Playbill Playback—a series of free streams of Broadway shows—will next offer a free viewing of Disney’s stage musical Newsies, on Fri., Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. ET on Playbill.com. The streaming event, which features a captured 2016 performance at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre featuring Jeremy Jordan, will include video appearances by cast members and will conclude with a new video featuring cast members from the Broadway and North American tour productions of the show. Donations to the Actors Fund are encouraged.
If you’re sensing a certain tang in the air, it could be because LimeFest is on. NYC’s downtown fixture the Tank had planned this festival of new work by female, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming artists live, but—well, you know what happened. Among this week’s online offerings is Rule of 7×7: LimeFest Edition, in which seven playwrights devise seven new plays, all of them following rules made up all seven, Fri., Aug. 21 and Sat., Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. ET, free but reservations are required; and Deniz Khateri’s The Evening Melody, a simulcast double performance based on an Iranian play by Mahsa Talebi in which audiences can watch both an Iranian version and the American version, while choosing the language they want to hear, Sun., Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. ET. ($5 suggested donation, free for viewers in Iran). A full listing of LimeFest’s offerings, which continue through Aug. 30, is here.
Also coming courtesy of the Tank, in a co-pro with New Light Theater Project, is a livestream production of Gina Femia’s meet you at the Galaxy Diner, directed by William Steinberger. The play, about high school friends reuniting over themes of aliens and outer space, will bow live on Fri. Aug. 21 at 8 p.m. ET (and will continue to be available on CyberTank OnDemand through Aug. 28). Tickets begin at $10 and are available at TheTankNYC.org.
In another twist on the is-it-theatre question, the brilliant choreographer Raja Feather Kelly—who has been commissioned by New York Live Arts to create a piece called WEDNESDAY, in which he and members of the company the feath3r theory will deconstruct the genderqueer backstory of the 1975 film classic Dog Day Afternoon—will host a public online watch party of the film on Sat., Aug. 22 at 5:30 EDT; viewers must RSVP in order to participate. Viewers will individually rent the film on YouTube ($3.99 for rent, $9.99 for purchase) for a collective viewing that will use DiscussionBar, a Google Chrome extension for YouTube, Netflix and Disney+ which allows users and creators to watch, chat, and sync videos for a party-like atmosphere. Kelly’s piece, billed as a “dance-theatre speculative documentary… a queer fantasia,” is scheduled to go up some time in 2021, but in the meantime this unique event will more than tide us over, not least because in addition to the film viewing, Kelly will present exclusive material about the neighborhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn, where the real-life bank robbery at the center of the film took place (for those who don’t recall, a man named John Wojtowicz held up a bank to pay for the gender-reassignment surgery of his partner, Liz Eden), and the evening will conclude with a post-screening Q&A between Kelly and Chris Sarandon, who played Al Pacino’s boyfriend Leon in the movie. Bonus: This screening takes place on the 48th anniversary of Wojtowicz’s robbery, during the “dog days” of summer.
In a star-studded benefit reading for Barrington Stage Company and the Actors Fund, Jason Alexander will play a morally corrupt lawyer who meets an angel in a near-death experience, played by Patti LuPone; also figuring into the mix are a priest played by Santino Fontana and a monsignor played by Michael McKean. The comedy is Rob Ulin’s Judgment Day, and after its premiere on Sat., Aug. 22 at 7:30 pm EST and will be available only through Tues., Aug. 25. Tickets require a donation $35.
Taking full advantage of the audio format is Testament, a world-premiere theatrical event from playwright Damian Lanigan, depicting the creation of Beethoven’s Third Symphony as he struggles with the loss of his hearing. Ugandan actor Julian Tushabe plays the great composer and the Philadelphia Orchestra plays the role of the orchestra. A co-production of New York’s Saratoga Shakespeare Company and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Testament will stream for free here from Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. until Aug. 23 at 11:59 p.m. EST.
Pleading the 19th
As my colleague Allison Considine noted last week, there are a number of online events to commemorate the constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. Tonight, on the eve of the centennial of the historic ratification vote, Baltimore Center Stage hosts The 19th: Whose Vote Is It Anyway?, which will feature musical performances, poetry, theatre, and more both celebrating and interrogating the amendment, which ostensibly granted suffrage to all women in the U.S. but functionally excluded all but white women. Curated by Paige Hernandez, Madeline Sayet, and Nicole A. Watson, the free event will stream on Center Stage’s YouTube and Facebook, Mon., Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. ET.
Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Burning Coal Theatre Company is marking this milestone with the two-week 19th Amendment Project, in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Wake County and 13 other theatre and/or opera companies from across central North Carolina. Each 10-minute play will be released virtually, one at a time, but all can be viewed through Sept. 30, for $2 per play or $25 for the entire 14-play cycle. This week’s offerings kick off with Inalienable Rights by Deb Margolin, in a co-production with Raleigh Little Theatre, on Mon., Aug. 17; Clare Bayley’s The Tender-Hearted, on Tues., Aug. 18; Magdalena Gomez’s Apartment 19: A Ten Minute Allegorical Play for Two Afro-Latinas, a co-pro with Agape Theatre, Wed., Aug. 19; , a co-pro with NC Opera, Lost Music From the Heart of Everything (a suffrage aria for Amelia Himes Walker) by Ruth Margraff, with music by Kamala Sankaram, Thurs., Aug. 20; Carrie Knowles’s Ladies Are Waiting (L.A.W.), on Fri., Aug. 21, a co-pro with North Carolina Theatre; Elaine Romero’s A Sentiment, a co-pro with Justice Theatre Project, Sat., Aug. 22; Hannah Benitez’s The 19th, a co-pro with Sweet Tea Shakespeare, Sun., Aug. 23; M.J. Perrin’s Behold: Colored and Women, Inconceivable, a co-pro with Theatre in the Park, Mon., Aug. 24. For a full schedule of all 14 plays, which continue to premiere through Aug. 30, go here.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. This Giving Season, please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!