I have a confession to make: For the most part, I have not personally climbed aboard the virtual theatre train, even as I happily pull together this national listing every week and hope to point you to streaming and archived options you can enjoy from the safety and comfort of your home. The problem is a very mundane one. As David Greig put it in a timeless tweet I’ve already cited in this space:
I do love plays, plays are great, but really, one huge reason I love them, is because they allow me to go to the theatre.
— David Greig (@DavieGreig) May 2, 2020
Unlike my colleague, Allison Considine, I haven’t been to any kind of live performance since early March. And I’ve sampled only a few here at home since then; as I have two young boys, I regularly ask folks promoting online shows to me whether they’re family-friendly, because under pandemic living conditions (and bedtimes) I have very limited windows to view anything of any length entirely on my own, or with just my household’s other adult, my wife (what are these things called movies? I remember them). If I’m going to watch something on a computer at home, it makes it easier if my boys can be roped into it.
Which means that a high point of my pandemic stay-at-home thus far was The Present, Helder Guimarães’s amazing Zoom card-trick show, whose feats of legerdemain my family and I still talk about. The interactive show included a package, sent by snail mail by the show’s producer, L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse, and without spoiling anything, let’s just say that to this day my boys and I are still parsing exactly how Helder was able to place things in that pre-mailed package something that matched suggestions that seemed to spontaneously arise in the live show.
Tomorrow, Sept. 2, tickets for the show’s “grand finale” on Sat., Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. PDT go on sale, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The sold-out show has a very limited interactive audience, but the finale is going to offer an unlimited number of viewing-only “seats” for $25; you can spend a bit more to get a version of that mailed package, and kick in $10 more to enter a lottery to upgrade into one of the finale’s main 24 participating households (with 100 percent of proceeds going directly to the COVID-19 emergency relief funds for the Actors Fund and the Arts Administrators of Color Network).
So what is on screen this week? Another wide range of readings, archived productions, and benefit concerts, both on-demand and live.
Bucks County’s Bristol Riverside Theatre will bring its 25-year-old Summer Music Fest to a close with an online Broadway Summer Spectacular, featuring local favorite Keith Spencer, Broadway and TV actor Telly Leung, Derrick Cobey, and Jessica Wagner. Wed., Sept. 2, at 7 p.m. ET, Fri., Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. ET, and Sun., Sept. 6 at 3 p.m. ET. Tickets are $35.
Though Pittsfield, Mass.’s Barrington Stage Company is one of just a handful of companies that have received Equity approval to produce live theatre during COVID-19, they’re also keeping the virtual theatre ghost light with an online reading, by Tony winner Harriet Harris, of Mark St. Germain’s Eleanor, directed by Henry Stram, in which influential First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt revisits her life, from her “Ugly Duckling” upbringing to her unorthodox marriage to Franklin and controversial life and loves. Harris will record the play tomorrow on the theatre’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage sans audience, and the reading will be available to stream on Fri.-Sat., Sept. 4-5 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tickets are $15.
Staged readings of exciting new Latinx work will be streamed online this weekend as part of San Diego Repertory Theatre’s fourth annual Latinx New Play Festival. Presented by Amigos del REP—a theatre advocacy council of community members and artists who promote Hispanic/Latino/Chicano theatre at the theatre—the fest kicks off on Fri., Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. PT with the medical sci-fi drama Machine Learning by Francisco Mendoza, followed by an opening reception. Next, on Sat., Sept. 5 at 12 p.m. PT is Diana Burbano’s primatological examination Sapience, at 3 p.m. PT, Makasha Copeland’s reality-TV-inspired comedy Extreme Home Makeover, and at 6 p.m. PT, Marga Gomez’s frank memoir Spanking Machine. Finally, on Sun., Sept. 6 at 12 p.m. PT, a “historical context panel” will be followed at 1 p.m. PT by Jaymes Sanchez’s family drama The Cucuy Will Find You, succeeded by a closing toast. Festival passes are on a pay-what-you-can sliding scale.
Among the grimmer theatrical stories of the COVID-19 era was the long, slow illness and death of hoofer extraordinaire Nick Cordero, who contracted the disease in March and, after a protracted hospital stay, died in July at the age of 41. Broadway On Demand is exclusively streaming a celebratory memorial tribute to the Tony nominee (whose work I personally relished in both Bullets Over Broadway and the premiere of The Toxic Avenger), Sun., Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. ET, with fellow performers from the aforementioned shows as well as A Bronx Tale, Rock of Ages, and Waitress. It’s free to watch on BroadwayOnDemand.com, but donations to Save the Music Foundation are encouraged.
Watch When You Can
L.A.’s Latino Theater Company has been rolling out archival videos of some its signature productions, and this week it’s their 2016 comedy La Olla, a 1950s-set adaptation by Evelina Fernández of Plautus’s Roman satire about greed, The Pot of Gold. Directed by José Luis Valenzuela, streams free on demand from today, Tues., Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. PT through Thurs., Sept. 10 at 11:59 p.m. PT. A follow-up online conversation with the artists will take place on Wed., Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. PT and will remain available on demand for 10 days.
One of the early Zoom play readings I heard lots of buzz about, but too late to catch, was Peter Kuo’s staging of Madhuri Shekar’s cosplay-loving romantic comedy In Love and Warcraft with students from his American Conservatory Theater MFA program. So I’m overjoyed to report that it’s coming back this week for an encore presentation courtesy of ACT and Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, live performances running Sept. 4, 5, 11, and 12, with streaming options available through Sept. 25. Showtimes vary and tickets are $15-20. Kuo has a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at this new hybrid format here.
Oh, here’s one with the magic words “family-friendly”: Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre world premiere production of Elizabeth A.M. Keel’s fantastical Tooth and Tail, which will be showing for free online—princesses, dragons, pirates, and all—Sept. 5-15. Donations will be encouraged so that the show can be mounted live onstage next spring.
A glimpse of tomorrow’s theatrical talents is available now courtesy of the 28th Annual Young Playwrights Festival, produced by L.A.’s Blank Theatre. Presented this year as digital shorts, the final four of 13 winning plays by young playwrights aged 15-19 from nine different states is streaming on Vimeo through Sept. 19. The plays are Viewer Discretion Advised by Alethea Shirilan-Howlett (age 17, from Jamesville, N.Y.); Watch Your Mouth by Alyssa Ho (age 16, from Pasadena, Calif.) and Miya Matsumune (age 15, from Upland, Calif.); Tiny Little Problems by Jane Brinkley (age 16, from Eugene, Ore.), and Parent, Legal Guardian, Angel, Other by Zander Pryor (age 17, from Dallas). Viewing passes range in price from $10 to $40.
A just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. If you are able, please join us in this mission by making a donation. As we reckon with the impact of COVID-19, the theatre field needs committed and nuanced journalism. Free and unlimited access to AmericanTheatre.org is one way that we and our publisher, Theatre Communications Group, are eliminating barriers to crucial resources during this crisis. When you support American Theatre and TCG, you support these emergency resources and our long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!