On the first day of Zoom school this week, my 7-year-old’s teacher wore a T-shirt reading “My Students Can Do Virtually Anything.” It was an encouraging message, and we could use the encouragement; like many families, the Weinert-Kendts of Queens, New York, are struggling with both work and school, let alone entertainment, all of which are now mediated through this screen, from Minecraft to WordPress, Google Classroom to Zoom, Netflix to YouTube. Even the music I’m listening to as I do my work (full albums only these days) is streaming through an online player.
This week’s online theatre offerings, also coming to you via your screen of choice, range widely, from Colombia to South Carolina, from interactive theatre to one-night-only concerts, from free to pay-in-British-pounds. As I’ve done for a while, I’ve divided them into shows you can only catch live and those you can stream at your leisure (within a defined window).
Not only local but international productions that were supposed to go up on U.S. stages are finding a way to reach audiences. Emma Rice’s musical Romantics Anonymous, the story of two French chocolatiers who overcome their anxieties to take a chance on romance, was supposed to play D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company in the spring, and it is at last to STC subscribers and other paying audience members as a livestream from Bristol Old Vic, with remaining performances including Thurs.-Fri., Sept. 24-25 at 2:30 p.m. ET, and Sat., Sept. 26 at 4 p.m. ET. Tickets are £20 (approximately $25).
TV stars Nancy Travis and Charles Shaughnessy headline a free reading of Wendy Kout and Jeff Reno’s Wake Up Call, a play about second chances written specifically for Zoom and presented by L.A.’s Skylight Theatre Company on Thurs., Sept. 24 at 3 p.m. PT. It’s free but reservations are required.
We know Eliza Bent as a former American Theatre editor, but she’s also an accomplished playwright and actor, and she joins the online play field with Karen, I Said, a solo piece on suburban materialism, lasagna, and other timely targets, directed by Tara Ahmadinejad. Performances are Thurs., Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. ET, Fri., Sept. 25 at 5 p.m. ET, Sat., and Sept. 25 at 12 p.m. ET. Tickets are free but there’s a $10 suggested donation, with proceeds donated to Brave Space Alliance.
Mentalist Vinny DePonto, a staple of Coney Island and creator of the Off-Broadway show Charlatan, will bring the carnival to computer screens with Mental Amusements, a virtual “magic reading” show presented by Bristol Riverside Theatre for just four performances: Thurs., Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET, Fri., Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m, and Sat., Sept. 26 at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ET. Tiered ticketing affords audiences the opportunity to merely look on ($35 general admission), or to participate in the show and maybe even have their minds read ($50 “front row” admission). Go here for details.
The debate over what to call work that’s made for the screen is settled in the case of Long Wharf Theatre’s New Haven Play Project, which despite that title is billing itself as a “sprawling, multidisciplinary film” about Muslim life in the “Elm City” in an age of rising, state-sanctioned Islamophobia, and the creative responses of the community and its artists. The feature length film will screen for free on Fri., Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. ET, followed by a livestreamed talkback session with contributing storytellers and artists.
Itamar Moses’s scientific love story Completeness, whose long gestation he wrote about for us last year, will get a virtual production courtesy of Atlanta’s Horizon Theatre, which has joined forces with the org Science ATL , which will have an appointment-only run Fri.-Sat, Sept. 25-26 and Oct. 2-3 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tickets are free but there’s a suggested donation of $10. And there are talkbacks after each show: On Sept. 26, Moses and the cast will take questions, and after the remaining performing, audiences will have access to expert scientists.
It’s the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and to celebrate the occasion, two theatre companies are joining to present Tanya Shaffer’s Manatee on Mars, a dramedy about the struggles that children on the spectrum and their families face in the American school system. The companies are the brand-new Remote Theater, which has partnered with San Francisco’s Playwrights Foundation to present the play after a four-week workshop as part of Remote’s new-play development series, Remote Studio. The reading is directed by Giovanni Rodriguez and features original music by Rinde Eckert. Tune in Sat., Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. PT. It’s free but registration is required.
South Carolina’s Trustus Theatre will present a reading of Val Dunn’s Down in the Holler, a sort of love triangle set in a cabin in the Shenandoah Valley. The play, winner of its annual playwrights’ festival, will be read for free on Sat., Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. ET. Trustus leadership says they hope to put Dunn’s play on the stage in 2022.
It’s not just the pandemic that’s preventing live performances in a place like Portland, Ore., where smoke from wildfires has made normal life both indoors and outside a trial. For an escape of sorts, Portland Center Stage is offering a live virtual reading of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, featuring selected scenes coupled with conversations with the artists, Sat., Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. PT. Desdemona Chiang directs a cast both local and national. Pay-what-you-will tickets range from $5 to $30.
As the political crisis in Belarus continues, dozens of theatres around the world will join to present a reading of Andrei Kureichik’s Insulted. Belarus(sia). If Kureichik’s name sounds familiar to readers, it might be because he wrote an impassioned report from Belarus for these pages last month, about the efforts of theatre artists to join the movement against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who is holding onto power and imprisoning and torturing opposition leaders after a contested election in early August. Kureichik’s play is directly about this crisis, and among the theatres that will broadcast a reading of Insulted. Belarus(sia). is Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre, Sat., Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. ET; Wilma’s lead artistic director, Yury Urnov, will direct the reading. The stream is free but audience members are encouraged to make a donation to the Belarus Free Theatre.
It’s no surprise to see form-breaking theatremaker Thaddeus Phillips in the virtual realm, but his entry is unsurprisingly sui generis. A coproduction with the Miami Light Project, with design elements by Steven Dufala, Zoo Motel is billed as “a live remote and interactive theatrical experience.” Each ticket buyer reserves one of 21 “rooms” in a motel and received a printable room key, a takeout menu, and a foldable set piece (sent via snail mail). It will be performed live from Phillips’s studio in Cajica, Colombia, a village on the outskirts of Bogota. The show goes into previews on Mon., Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. ET, and “opens” officially on Mon., Oct. 5, with regular performances running Wed.-Sun., Oct. 7-2 at 8 p.m. ET. Tickets are $35 per household.
In July, Huntington Theatre Company began to release a series of short audio plays under the umbrella Dream Boston, and seven more are coming this fall. Available on the Huntington’s website, as well as all major audio platforms (hard-of-hearing patrons can go here), they were commissioned from local playwrights, who were asked to imagine their favorite Beantown locations in a future where we can meet and gather in person again. Adding to a roster that includes playwrights Kirsten Greenidge, Kate Snodgrass, Brenda Withers, and Melinda Lopez will be new plays: Elle Borders’s Joy, set at Franklin Park, and now available for streaming; John Oluwole ADEkoje’s The Rainman, set on Malcolm X Blvd., available starting Wed., Sept. 23; Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro’s The View From MemChurch, set in Harvard Yard, available starting Sept. 30; Miranda ADEkoje’s Virtual Attendance, set at Nubian Square, available starting Oct. 7; J. Sebastián Alberdi’s feeling now, set outside Fenway Park, available starting Oct. 14; Patrick Gabridge’s Echoes, set at the Old State House, available starting Oct. 21; and John Kuntz’s The Moment Before the Lights Went Out on the Rothkos, set at the Harvard Art Museum and available starting Oct. 28.
Pittsfield, Mass.’s Barrington Stage Company was noted for being among the first companies to get Equity approval for in-person performances during the pandemic, but that hasn’t kept them from venturing into the virtual as well. A reading of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings, a darkly funny series of monologues set in a small Midwestern funeral parlor, will have a short online run, featuring actors Angel Desai, Debra Jo Rupp, and Kurtwood Smith. Barrington Stage plans to stage it later this year on its mainstage, but for now it can be viewed between Wed., Sept. 23 at 7:30 pm ET and Sun., Sept. 27 at 7:29 pm ET. Access is available with a donation of $25 or more.
Puppets and the screen have long gone together, and the upcoming UConn Fall Puppet Slam, though originally planned for a live setting, should translate well to the screen. Presented by the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and the UConn Puppet Arts Program on Fri., Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. ET on the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry’s Facebook page, this year’s slam will feature short works by puppeteers and performers from around the United States and across the world, including Linda Wingerter, Flock Theatre, Bonnie Kim, Campfire Tales, House of Funny Noises, and new works by UConn Puppet Arts students and recent alumni. It’s free but donations will be accepted and appreciated, and those who miss the launch can catch it online through Oct. 31, 2020.
Like every theatre program in the world, Massachusetts’s Middlesex Community College performing arts program had a dilemma when COVID-19 struck: Cancel all live performances or go Zoom? Using Qui Nguyen’s pandemic-adapted She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms, Middlesex is doing a little of both: They built safe, socially distanced cubicles at MCC’s Richard and Nancy Donahue Family Academic Arts Center for students to act in. Each has a web cam, sending their feed to a main show computer, which is then fed to Zoom. You can check out the results Fri.-Sun., Sept. 25-27 at 7 p.m. ET; it’s free but registration is required.
Idris Goodwin’s anti-racist “Free Play” series, which offers short plays for kids and families to act out at home, has also been embraced by theatre companies, who are offering online productions as conversation starters. Dallas Children’s Theater is the latest to join this trend, offering three short shows under the title Social Justice Play Series, for free via their website over the course of the next three months. The first play, The Water Gun Song, in which a mother tries to explain to her son why a water gun isn’t simply a toy, will be available starting Fri., Sept. 25. Two talkbacks will be a part of each release. The remaining shows, Nothing Rhymes With Juneteenth and #Matter, will be unveiled Oct. 16 and Nov. 6, respectively.
Atlanta’s Aurora Theatre is offering a two-person “down-home” musical, Barbara’s Blue Kitchen, in live performance Fri., Sept. 25-Sun., Oct. 4. With music, lyrics, and book by Lori Fisher, the show follows the denizens of a diner that is the epicenter of life, love, and gossip in a small Tennessee town. It’s part of Aurora’s ambitious Our Stage Onscreen effort, which is doing free virtual programming, but this production is charging $30 per stream.
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