NEW YORK — There's
More than a hundred blocks north of Manhattan's shuttered
But there was no applause. Instead, all that was heard was a strange command for the
Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays was performing multiple roles for a high-tech “A Christmas Carol” that was being filmed for streaming this month at the empty 3,000-seat United Palace.
The one-man show is an example of how many who work in
“Because it’s such a roll-up-your-sleeves business,
The coronavirus pandemic shut down
Mays' “A Christmas Carol,” which was filmed on a high-tech LED set, veers much more filmic than most other streaming
Other green shoots include radio plays, virtual readings, online variety shows and drive-in experiences that combine live singing with movies. The cast of the musical “Diana” reunited on Broadway to film the show for Netflix before it opens on Broadway.
The San Francisco Playhouse recently offered screenings of Yasmina Reza’s play “Art,” an onstage production captured live by multiple cameras, with a crucial wrestling scene reimagined to keep social distancing. A musical version of the animated film “Ratatouille” is being explored on TikTok.
“We will conquer it. We are
Her company has put on a free streaming holiday production of “Meet Me in St. Louis” with a dozen cast members, each filmed remotely and then digitally stitched together. Moore directed it — appropriately enough — from St. Louis. Other
The cast was mailed or hand-delivered props, costumes and a green screen. They rehearsed via Zoom and FaceTime. A masked and socially distant orchestra recorded the score, and the sets were beamed onto the actors' screens.
“You learn minute by minute by minute along the way what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do,” said Moore, who starred in the original Broadway run of “Meet Me in St. Louis” in 1989. “It’s torture and it’s thrilling — thrilling torture.”
Like many other theatrical hybrids venturing into the digital world these days, it's not clear what to call it. It's not technically live
“It’s not definable in our current vocabulary,” Moore said. “It has to have a new definition, truly, because it’s certainly unlike anything that has been done.”
One of the companies to show the way forward was Berkshire Theater Group in western Massachusetts, whose “Godspell” in August became the first outdoor musical with union actors since the pandemic shut down productions.
Artistic director and CEO Kate Maguire refused to entertain the notion that the company — established in 1928 — would have an asterisk beside 2020 that said no shows were produced that year.
So they used plexiglass partitions between each masked actor. The performers were tested regularly — at a cost of close to $50,000 — and had their own props and a single costume. Each was housed in their own living space — bedroom, living area and little kitchenette. In an open-air tent, they managed to pull off a crucifixion scene without any touching or lifting, itself a miracle.
Audiences underwent temperature checks and were separated by seats. Staff were placed in three protective bubbles: artistic, production and front-of-house. And there was monitoring: Last year it was an intimacy officer; this year it was a COVID-19 one.
Maguire thrashed out a 40-page agreement with the stage union Actor’s Equity Association. “We never had a positive test,” Maguire said. “We had five false positive tests,” which was “harrowing.”
She thanked grants for allowing her to keep her staff on payroll, making the stress level tolerable. It was clear audiences were hungry for
Since that first brave step, other
“We’re seeing many groups applying for small cast, easy to produce, plays and musicals. They’re even seeking casting flexibility and asking for permission to perform with or without an ensemble,” said Sean Patrick Flahaven, chief theatricals executive.
“There’s also a trend for groups to apply for both live performance and streaming rights. Many amateur
Playwright Natalie Margolin decided to write a new play during the pandemic but not a conventional one. She imagined what the world would look like when it was a given that all social life existed on Zoom.
Hence “The Party Hop,” a play specifically to be performed on Zoom that's set three years into quarantine in which three college girls hit the town — online. It became her first published play, and she got stars such as Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein and Ashley Park to perform in an online version, currently on YouTube. She hopes high schools and colleges will be attracted to a play reflecting the era.
“It was just exciting to take part in something where it wasn’t a placeholder or a replacement, and no one needed to imagine they were anywhere else than where they were to fully realize the piece,” she said. “It’s been exciting and heartwarming to see different ways
Theater makers have also leaned into the storytelling part of their craft, making The Broadway Podcast Network a hub for everything from audition advice to behind-the-scenes stories.
Launched shortly before the pandemic with 15 podcasts, the
“Even though we had lost all of our advertising, we just knew that this was important to our community, to keep our community connected and continue to tell stories," said Dori Berinstein, co-founder of the network and a four-time Tony-winning Broadway producer. “It’s not anything that will ever replace live
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press