This time last year, American Theatre was announcing the Top 10 Most-Produced Plays and Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights of the 2019-20 season, as part of our annual season preview issue. No one foresaw then that six months later the American theatre season as we knew it would be cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, in the process scotching some productions that would have counted toward that tally, along with countless others.
A year later, is there a 2020-21 theatre season to look forward? We are certainly getting and publishing our share of season announcements, but you’ll note among them a lot of TBAs, online-only readings, and audio plays, with live events, if they’re announced at all, pushed to some indeterminate date in early 2021. It’s not so much that time seems to have stopped—my kids start remote school in New York City today, God help us, and the weather is inarguably easing into fall on the East Coast, even as what is ruefully known as fire season rages on the other coast. It is that the usual markers of time don’t mean at all what they used to, or mean something so different from what we’re used that contemplating the calendar is like reading road signs in another language. September? Where does that lead again? What lies down the road of October? What’s the distance to Thanksgiving?
Some of this week’s online offerings, which I have again divided into appointment viewing and streaming windows, gesture toward the season change that is upon us. I thank them for it: In the flood of time that is washing over all of us, it seems worthwhile to cling to any recognizable flotsam we can find to keep us afloat.
And so, without further ado…
Jack Was Kind, new play about power and complicity by Tracy Thorne, is being streamed by All For One Theater live on Zoom four times a week, starting Wed., Sept. 16 through Sat., Oct. 10. Each performance of the 70-minute play will be followed by a discussion with Thorne and a special guest, arranged in consultation with national affairs commentator Jami Floyd, to spotlight issues of complicity in American power structures. Tickets are $5-50.
If you missed Single Carrot Theatre’s last virtual live show, we broke up (an “experiential digital performance” co-created with Baltimore playwright DJ Hills, and first featured in this online theatre listing in July), you’ve got a few more chances to catch it in live streams from the 2020 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. Remaining performances include Wed., Sept. 16 at 8:45 EDT, Fri., Sept. 18 at 8 p.m., and Sat. Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15.
Kicking off this week is one of the most happily inevitable virtual performances imaginable: a presentation, by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA, of Forced Entertainment Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare: At Home, in which Shakespeare’s works are performed by the cheeky British company as miniature, and often quite messy, puppet shows using assorted household objects and condiments. Macbeth (key ingredients: boiled linseed oil, string) kicks off the series on Thurs., Sept. 17 at 12 p.m. PDT and The Tempest (lighter fluid, marmalade) ends it on Sun., Nov. 15. The streams are free; a complete schedule is here.
Coachella Valley Repertory offers Monologue Mania on Thurs., Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. PDT, featuring actors Arthur Hanket, David Natale, Angela Sauer, Marina Re, Liana Arauz, Vin Kridadorn, and Francelie Chapman. It’s free but you need to go here to register.
Paula Vogel’s YouTube reading series Bard at the Gate at last comes around to one of her favorite under-produced plays, Eisa Davis’s Pulitzer-nominated Bulrusher, streaming on Thurs., Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. EDT, followed by a Zoom discussion with Davis and Vogel. The play follows a multiracial foundling in a San Francisco logging town in the 1950s who befriends a new arrival from Alabama, and the cast is headed by Andre Holland and Kara Young. It’s free to view here, but donations are suggested, proceeds of which go to 350.org, an organization advocating for climate change action and legislation.
Queens Theatre, close to my neck of the woods, has invited some of its favorite narrative artists from Queens Storytellers Online to share some longer-format solo shows for a new limited series of one-time live events, “Our Story.” On Fri., Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. EDT is David Lawson’s Nazis and Me, about a lifetime both fearing and confronting hatred; on Fri., Sept. 25 ay 7 p.m. EDT, Marc L. Abbott’s Love African American Style, a dramedic journey to find the one person to share his life with; and on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. EDT, Michele Carlo’s Fish Out of Agua, about a redheaded, freckle-faced Puerto Rican who grew up as a double outsider in the Bronx.
And who says there’s not a fall theatre season? New York City’s indispensable incubator La MaMa kicks off it 59th on Fri., Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. EDT with a special free presentation of Downtown Variety and a virtual season launch party, viewable on La MaMa’s Facebook page, LaMaMa.org, www.culturehub.org, and Howlround Theatre Commons. As its name suggests, Downtown Variety comprises short acts of dance, music, theatre, new media, comedy, A/V performance, and more, from the likes of Belarus Free Theatre, Annie-B Parson + Stacy Stearns of Big Dance Theater, RaFia Santana, Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky, Tareke Ortiz, and Nuum Collective. Video art will be provided by Kameron Neal with Shayok Misha Chowdhury, and the evening will be hosted by Mattie Barber-Bockelman.
It’s hard to believe this is the first time the innovative Philly company Pig Iron has made it into these listings, but it was worth the wait: They’re presenting a livestream production of Toshiki Okada’s Zero Cost House, which reckons with natural disaster and the conscience of the artist. Translated by Aya Ogawa and adapted and directed by Dan Rothenberg, it runs Fri., Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. EDT, Sat., Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. EDT, Sun., Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. EDT, and Fri., Sept. 25 at 8 pm EDT. Tickets range from $11.50 to $22; the performance on Sept. 19 will feature a live talkback with Okada from Japan.
In one of the more hotly anticipated archival screenings to come along in a while, Dallas’s Undermain Theater will offer a stream of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s breakthrough play We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915, beginning on Wed., Sept. 16 and running through Sun., Oct. 4. Produced and recorded at Undermain in 2014, the show depicts the tragicomic struggles of a mixed-race troupe to create a docu-theatre piece about a racial genocide. Viewing is free for Undermain subscribers and $15 for everyone else.
Meanwhile Addison, Tex.’s WaterTower Theatre will stream a star-studded benefit concert to celebrate North Texas Giving Day. Billed as a “love letter to the town of Addison,” the ONE Addison concert features songs from The Bridges of Madison County, performed by Christine Cornish Smith and Christopher J. Deaton, who were slated to star in the production before it was cancelled by the pandemic. In addition to other songs, the concert also features an original spoken-word piece by Verb Kulture and an original dance performance by Kellie Carroll and Ania Lyons. Recorded with safety precautions and social distancing on the theatre’s stage, the concert will be available to stream starting Thurs. Sept. 17 and ending Wed., Sept. 30. Tickets are $38.
Among the shows that were to be part of last year’s truncated season at Maryland’s Olney Theatre Center was Stephen Karam’s Pulitzer-winning The Humans, which Olney will now stage it virtually, with its six actors Zooming in from different locations. It’s now streaming via the Olney website for $35, available through Oct. 4.
Also in the audio realm, Colorado Springs’s Fine Arts Center Theatre Company has launched launching a 12-episode scripted fiction anthology series titled Of Spacious Skies, with the first episode debuting on Thurs., Sept. 17. Spanning eras and genres, the series is designed to explore the past, present, and future of Colorado Springs through stories converging around Pikes Peak. The first episode tells the story of Katherine Lee Bates’ journey to Colorado Springs, which inspired her to write the poem that would become “America the Beautiful.” The free series will be available through major podcast platforms and on the FAC website (those who donate $25 or more in support of the production will receive a commemorative 3-CD set of the entire series when it is complete).
Another audio offering comes from San Francisco’s bibiophiliac Word for Word Theatre, which continues their 2020 season with the debut of a new podcast, the WORD for WORDcast. The first three episodes will serialize an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s dystopian look at the future, The Machine Stops, rolling out at 5 p.m. PDT on successive Thursdays—Sept. 17, Sept. 24, and Oct. 1—on zspace.org/pod.
Actors Theatre of Louisville isn’t just known for its annual Humana Festival of New American Plays; locals also relish its annual presentation of Dracula, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. This year the pandemic lockdown has led producers to find an alternative to the usual staging by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, and they’ve settled on a doozy: the radio play version first minted by Orson Welles and John Houseman in 1938. It’s already up and running, now through Sun., Nov. 1. Pay-what-you-can tickets start at $10.
Actors Theatre is also reaching back into the theatrical literature with form-breaking adaptations for the virtual realm with “COVID-Classics: One-Act Plays for the Age of Quarantine,” a 43-minute program of short plays, directed by AD Robert Barry Fleming, that begins streaming on Fri., Sept. 18. These include Thucydides’s The Plague of Athens, Pirandello’s The Man With the Flower in His Mouth, Strindberg’s The Stronger, Chekhov’s On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, and The Breasts of Tiresias by Apollinaire. Pay-what-you-can tickets start at $15.
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley will stream a benefit online workshop reading of Pandora, a new play by Laurel Ollstein about the myth of Pandora’s box. The cast, assembled from across the country, was recorded over Zoom under the direction of TheatreWorks artistic associate Giovanna Sardelli. And though Pandora won’t be offered to streaming until the period from Thurs., Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. PDT to Mon., Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. PDT, we’re listing it this week so you can catch a pre-show interview with actor Katy Sullivan on Fri., Sept. 18. Sullivan—an award-winning actress, producer, writer, bilateral above-knee amputee, and record-breaking Paralympic athlete—stars in the title role and will speak about her career and about the play, commissioned by Villa Theatre Lab at the Getty Villa. Viewers who sign up for the free viewing will receive links for both the Sullivan pre-show and the Pandora stream.
Arizona Theatre Company continues a series of online play readings with Wendy MacLeod’s comedy for anyone who’s ever been “hangry,” Slow Food, now available to stream for free through Sat., Sept. 19 at 5 p.m. MST. This one, set at a restaurant in Palm Springs where a couple just want to enjoy their meal but are bedeviled by a flighty waiter, may be extra bittersweet in a time when eating out can be a mortal danger. Either way it’s nice to tip (i.e. donate).
Also in the audioplay realm, the newly formed Theatre of the Electric Mouth (ThEM) has released its first audio drama, Ask the Void, described as an advice call-in show with “an absurdist lens somewhere between Eugene Ionesco and Tim and Eric.” Davis Alianiello is the writer and director, and it’s available free on most platforms, including YouTube.
Creative credits for production photos: Zero Cost House (for Zoom), written by Toshiki Okada, translated by Aya Ogawa, adapted by Dan Rothenberg and Pig Iron, with visual design by Maiko Matsushima and sound design by Rucyl Frison; We Are Proud to Present a Presentation…, written by Jackie Sibblies Drury, directed by Dylan Key, sound design: Bruce DuBose, choreography: Millicent Johnnie, props design: Linda Noland, costume design: Claudia Stephens, scenic design: Robert Winn, lighting design: Steve Woods; The Carolyn Bryant Project, created by Nataki Garrett and Andrea LeBlanc, directed by Nataki Garrett, scenic designer: Liz Smith, costume designer: X. Hill, lighting design: Chris Kuhl, sound design: Daniel Gower, video design: Edgar Arceneaux
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!