Who is watching this stuff? I can’t be the only one who’s wondering. In fact a pair of professors in the U.K. have just released a fascinating study that shows not only a great interest among theatregoers across the pond in “online theatre” offerings during the pandemic lockdown, but interest in continued experiments in this space, even after it’s safe to return. To wit: 95 percent of respondents said they would pay to watch a live Zoom theatre production during lockdown, and 72 percent said they would pay for the same at any time, regardless of whether theatres were closed or not. (Just 5 percent said they would only watch online theatre if it was free.) I couldn’t help but notice the language there—respondents said they would pay, not that they had. Still, it’s interesting data, and I’d love to see a stateside equivalent.
Another finding with implications for this whole enterprise: As the University of Exeter’s Dr. Rachael Nicholas explained, the survey took note of a distinct preference. “People were less willing to pay for pre-recorded Zoom experiences than for live ones,” she said, “and have a preference for high-quality made-for-digital adaptations of drama that include a social or community-building element. They valued being able to watch something which was live, and especially enjoyed the ability to participate and see other audience members.”
On the other hand, I just heard from the Goodman Theatre that the recent online airing of the Broadway staging of Death of a Salesman was a huge success. So maybe it depends on the content?
This week’s offerings, both live and otherwise, include a fair number of timely offerings—i.e., scarifying Halloween pieces and similarly anxiety-inducing election-themed political theatre.
Without further ado…
Brecht and Weill are always apt in troubled times, and right on cue, here comes NYC’s City Lyric Opera with a fully produced virtual version of The Threepenny Opera, the German duo’s masterpiece musical about crime and corruption. Originally intended for their stage but moved to the virtual realm due to the pandemic lockdown, it features German-born baritone Justin Austin as Macheath, performing in “COVID pods” alongside fellow performers in a rendition recorded at HERE Arts Center. Ticket holders can opt to be part of a live audience for specific performances (for instance, by waving CLO-provided glow sticks during the wedding scene), which run at various times Fri., Oct. 30-Sun., Nov. 15, with tickets ranging $12-$24.
Reviving a Mary Shelley adaptation that first appeared Off-Broadway in 1997, Cleveland Public Theatre is presenting a Zoom adaptation of Frankenstein’s Wake, created by Raymond Bobgan and Holly Holsinger, which aims for an evolved perspective on Shelley’s themes of longing, the search for one’s origin, conflict with one’s creator, and what it means to be human. Bobgan directs this one-woman play starring Holsinger. The production will be performed live at 7 p.m. ET, Oct. 30-31 and Nov. 8, 14, and 20. A special additional performance will be on Oct. 31 at 10 p.m. ET. Tickets are $1, with a suggested donation between $1 and $99.
The Echo Theater Company in L.A. will present Bold Faced Secret: In Their Shoes, a compendium of stories submitted about unexpected friendships, unlikely bonds, and experiences that opened their minds. The personal stories will be shared on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. PT for free here.
The other day Norm Lewis came into my home—er, my earbuds, courtesy of a demo by New York: Resounding, a live immersive audio entertainment company, whose live-mixed audio version of Dracula, starring Lewis, premieres Fri.-Sat., Oct. 30-31 at 8 p.m. ET. Adapted from Orson Welles’s radio play version by director Steve Wargo, the production encourages audiences to “spend the night out at home,” and they’ve enlisted award-winning NYC bartender Jena Ellenwood to help curate custom cocktails (and nonalcoholic beverages) for each of their shows. Audiences will also have the opportunity to share their experiences via a “virtual photo booth” documenting the shared experience of attending the performance together, even while being apart. Resounding plans to followed Dracula with audio adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in November and The Fantastical Tale of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King in December. Tickets are $20.
As a fundraiser, Burning Coal Theatre Company in Raleigh, N.C., will present Phantasmagoria, or Let Us Seek Death, by Chana Porter, which combines puppetry, biography, and storytelling to provide a look into the life of Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley as it depicts a teenage girl writing a spooky story during a rainy night in a Genevan castle. Directed by Randolph Curtis Rand, the production runs one night only, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available for a $20 donation to Burning Coal.
Game creator and director Ken Roht has created a new live-streaming game show competition called Director Vs. Director. In this interactive Zoom-inspired game, two directors and their team of artists have three hours to work together behind-the-scenes to create a show. The teams then present their art to a live audience, who in turn vote for a winner. Mark Bedard serves as the show’s host, and on-air regulars include Balloon Girl Millie Grams, Theatre Professional Mrs. Keyes, and 4-Cs Spokesperson Jenna Morris. The fifth episode of the show, the “Special All-Star Game,” will stream for free on Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Directors Joshua Turchin and David O will compete, and the Los Angeles-based alt-rockers the HolyCuts will be the special musical guests.
New York City company spit&vigor is offering the world premiere of Luna Eclipse as part of their artistic residency with the Center at West Park. Written and directed by Sara Fellini, it follows a mysterious professor who invites us into her home for a séance—and then things get weird. Performances will livestream Nov. 4-Dec. 13, on a schedule that runs Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m. ET, with matinees on Sun. at 3 p.m. ET and a special pre-show on Fr., Nov. 6. Tickets are $20 for livestreaming performances Nov. 4-8, and $15 for prerecorded encores November 11th thru December 13th. Advance reservations are recommended.
Mosaic Theater Company is presenting free workshop presentations of Dead Mapel, written and performed by Psalmayene 24, that will combine theatre performance and live multi-camera video production and effects as Psalm explores his relationship with his deceased father through a series of real and imagined letters. Directed by Natsu Onoda Power, the production runs through Oct. 31 at 11:59 PM, and tickets for the production are free.
In anticipation of the 2020 election and in celebration of its own “arts month,” Theatreworks in Colorado Springs is presenting House Arrest, by Anna Deavere Smith, through Nov. 1. The play, streamed through Vimeo, trains Smith’s documentary-style storytelling on the Civil Rights movement, issues of slavery and racism, and the relationship between the press and the presidency throughout American history. Tickets are available on a sliding scale up to $20, with an option of a free community ticket price for those experiencing financial need.
Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles, Ill., through its New Play Lab, is streaming a virtual workshop of Ken Urban’s Danger and Opportunity, a comedy exploring life under Trump in which a married gay couple who feel they’re in a rut are suddenly met with the reappearance of one partner’s ex-girlfriend. The reading, directed by Mark Brokaw, will stream for free on YouTube through Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. CT. While the streamed reading is free, there is a suggested donation of $25.
L.A.’s Latino Theatre Company continues to roll out archival videos of past triumphs. The newest Evelina Fernández’s Dementia, produced in 2010, which tackles such topics as homosexuality, AIDs, teen pregnancy, and more. Directed by José Luis Valenzuela, the production stars Esperanza America, Ralph Cole, Jr., Danny De La Paz, Evelina Fernández, Sal Lopez, Geoffrey Rivas, and Lucy Rodriguez. Dementia streams for free through Thurs., Nov. 5. (This listing at last gives me an excuse to share one of my favorite theatre postcards ever, at left.)
First Stage in Milwaukee, Wisc., will produce Eric Coble’s The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus (In Your House) as part of its virtual season of plays. The one-actor play, starring Karen Estrada, is about a group of friends’ journey through the American Southwest after a well-dressed talking coyote steals an orange traffic cone from their junkyard summer fortress. The play will be performed and recorded virtually from Estrada’s home and available to stream Nov. 2-22. Single tickets are available for $15, $25, or $40; patrons are encouraged to choose the price point that best fits their family and budget.
Profile Theatre in Portland, Ore., will present Paula Vogel’s Hot ’N’ Throbbing, an audio play about a single mom who writes feminist erotic films. The audio play, directed by Jamie M. Rea, will be available to stream Nov. 4-June 20, 2021. Hot ’N’ Throbbing is free for members for a month or longer, and available to non-members for 24-hour rentals at a sliding scale starting at $10.
In April New York City’s HERE Arts Center debuted All Decisions Will Be Made by Consensus, billed as the world’s first Zoom opera. Now they’re upping the stakes with a new “space opera” from Kamala Sankaram and librettist Rob Handel, Only You Will Recognize the Signal, about passengers having strange dreams aboard a luxury space craft Unfolding in weekly serialized episodes, it started this week and will roll out over the coming seven weeks, through Dec. 17. It’s available for donations starting at $5.
Olivia Miller and Anita Castillo-Halvorssen have created a web series that promises to bring “some energy of live theatre back to the theatre community. Each episode of Call From: ___ features two characters from the theatrical canon trying (and failing) to get what they want over Zoom. It’s already up, with the first three episodes riffing on Romeo and Juliet, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Waiting for Godot.
Rob Weinert-Kendt (he/him) is the editor-in-chief of American Theatre. firstname.lastname@example.org
Production credits for photos: The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, directed by Attilio Rigotti, music direction by Whitney George, scenography by Anna Driftmier, sound design by Evan Tyor, lighting by Karina Hyland, director of photography: Orsolya Szánthó, cinematography by Irene Mercadel; Frankenstein’s Wake, created by Holly Holsinger and Raymond Bobgan, directed by Raymond Bobgan, with music direction by Caitlin Lewins, specialty table design by Brad Krumholz
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