#Stageworthy News of the Week.
Ten weeks after the governor shut down all theaters in New York City, signs point to widespread expectation that they won’t reopen until Spring 2021. Some of these signs are subtle, such as the announcement that, on June 7th, the night that had been reserved for the 74th Annual Tony Awards before it was canceled, the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing have decided to go ahead with an hour-long “event” – a celebration and a fundraiser – that will be streaming on TonyAwards.com and the new platform BroadwayonDemand.com — as if to acknowledge that it is not plausible for the actual Tonys to be rescheduled in 2020.
Another sign of a delayed reopening of physical theaters in New York is the interview that Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin gave to The Daily Beast, declaring that her “optimistic” date for Broadway’s reopening is January 2021 – which is four months later than the League’s latest official end-date of September 6 for the Broadway shutdown (announced earlier this month.) And the phrasing heavily implies that the more realistic date is at least a year after the March shutdown. “We can’t socially distance the cast and crew in these 100-year-old-plus buildings,” St. Martin said. “And we can’t afford to socially distance the audience.”
This is more or less the assessment (with just a few exceptions) of the concert promoters, theater presenters, heads of orchestras and of dance companies who talked to the New York Times (The Fall of Autumn: Live Performance Producers Are Giving Up on 2020)
This afternoon Actors Equity Association announced the four core conditions “needed to support safe and healthy theater production”
” 1. The epidemic must be under control, with effective testing, few new cases in the area and contact tracing.
2. Individuals who may be infectious can be readily identified and isolated, with frequent, regular and accurate testing with speedy results.
3. The way we audition, rehearse, perform and stage manage may need to change and the venues we work in may need to undergo changes in order to reduce the risk.
4. Efforts to control COVID-19 exposure must be collaborative, involving Equity members, employers, the union and all others involved in the production of theatre. There must be collective buy-in and ongoing evaluation and improvement of health and safety practices.”
Meeting these conditions sounds a long way off.
Online Theater IS Theater
Meanwhile, the redefining of theater is proceeding apace. Symbolic of the advances is the announcement just now that Play-Perview, a platform created during the shutdown which has been presenting original, live one-time-only readings online, will present Will Arbery’s Pulitzer finalist play “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” online June 13. And it’s not alone in suggesting what online theater can be (See reviews below, especially of “Mad Forest” and “The Sentinels.”) Just the fact that so many more theater companies are scheduling original plays online in advance is a
sign of changing attitudes.
As playwright Itamar Moses told me earlier this week: “Sure, people are trying to figure out ways of presenting theatre, remotely, over screens right now, but it isn’t the absence of a screen that makes something theatre.
“Theatre is when something is performed, in real time, for an audience that is also watching it in real time, while gathered in the same space — and all that’s really happening right now is an expansion of the definition of what we mean by ‘space’ to include virtual space….It’s our awareness of the aliveness and presence of the actors and our fellow audience members that makes something theatre and if being present together in a virtual space is the form this moment demands then we will, by necessity, develop techniques for maximizing the power of that form, maybe allowing it to become a legitimate off-shoot of theatre in its own right.”
Week in Online Theater Reviews
Mary-Louise Parker introduces us to the second edition of The Homebound Project, an hour-long online collection of 11 new short plays, by explaining that the theme this time is “sustenance,” and lists “the many ways we sustain and fortify ourselves…. shelter, our vocations, charity, activism, and also food.”
She doesn’t mention the arts.
And, honestly, this second batch of plays in the series, with just a couple of exceptions, didn’t generally provide as much sustenance for me as the first edition. In place of the first edition’s frequent sense of playfulness, as well as relatively straightforward stories of connection and longing, there are darker and less accessible works reminiscent of the spare and despairing plays of Samuel Beckett.
Bard’s splendidly glitchy production of “Mad Forest,” Caryl Churchill’s fascinating avant-garde drama about the 1989 Romanian Revolution, is the first live play I’ve seen since the shutdown that attempts a full staging via Zoom. Rather than just reading the stage directions, the twelve actors enact them – a mother slaps her son; friends share a piece of chocolate, and lie down together on a lawn; a couple hug one another; the members of a wedding party get into a massive group brawl — although each of the actors, all undergraduates at Bard, are performing remotely from locations across the country where they are sheltering.
Presented live and free Theatre for a New Audience in collaboration with Fisher Center at Bard (with another one scheduled for Wednesday at 3), the show was a revelation, and something of a revolution itself, suggesting new paths forward for online theater.
Bryan Cranston and Sally Field performed live on May 21, 2020 in A.R. Gurney’s two-character play about a man and woman writing to one another over half a century, starting at the age of seven. This was the third in a series of new live-streamed productions of old plays produced by Broadway’s Best Shows.
The 1988 play seems ideal for online theater. Even when it was on Broadway — as it was twice, the last time in 2014 (my review)– there was no scenery or costumes, and the actors stayed seated at a table the whole time and read from scripts without ever looking at each other. It still managed to be terrifically entertaining and surprisingly moving.
“The Sentinels,” a new 9/11 play by Matthew Lopez, was worth your time — well-acted, touching, appealing in part because of its very modesty — and it demonstrated a few things to me. A play can be well-directed, in this case by Rebecca Taichman (Tony-winner for Indecent) even when presented neck-up via Zoom.
Watch Bombshell the Concert
The first-ever streaming of the 2015 concert of “Bombshell,” the fictional musical about Marilyn Monroe that the characters were putting together in the first season of “Smash” plus a Zoom reunion of the cast.
Book Review: Playwrights on Television: Conversations with Dramatists.
Hillary Miller, an assistant professor of theater at Queens College, City University of New York, has put together 18 Q and A transcripts, arranged alphabetically, from interviews she conducted between October 2018 and April 2019. The playwrights she selected reflect “a broad definition of diversity” – including in the balance between their onstage and onscreen experiences and identity, from Madeleine George, who at the time of Miller’s interview with her in December 2018 had been a playwright for 25 years ( The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence, Hurricane Diane), and a TV writer for ten weeks, to Tanya Saracho, showrunner for Starz TV series “Vida,” who tells Miller “ I have left the theater, consciously” (or Tanya Barfield, who tells Miller: “Maybe after my kids go to college, I’ll go back to playwriting. That’s a while off.”) Surely, a few of them would have something to say about our sudden era of online theater.
In one way, then, Miller’s book is the victim of unlucky timing. But in another way, some of the issues that the author does explore are as good a prompt as any to thinking about the current crossbreeding of media and what may be in store.
Other Theater News
The First Annual Hal Prince Lifetime Achievement Award, newly created by The Drama Desk,
, will go to….Hal Prince, posthumously. when the Drama Desk announces the winners of its competitive awards on May 31
Jeremy O. Harris and The Bushwick Starr are partnering to give $500 each to 152 U.S. playwrights. Applications start May 29
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) May 21, 2020
The third edition of the Homebound Project, running June 3–7, is on the theme of “champions.” Participating actors, playwrights, and directors include:
Jennifer Carpenter and Thomas Sadoski in a work by John Guare, directed by Jerry Zaks;
Ralph Brown in a work by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, directed by Jenna Worsham;
Diane Lane in a work by Michael R. Jackson;
Paola Lázaro in a work by Gina Femia, directed by Taylor Reynolds;
Joshua Leonard in a work by Mara Nelson-Greenberg;
Eve Lindley in a work by Daniel Talbott, directed by Kevin Laibson;
Arian Moayed in a work by Xavier Galva;
Ashley Park in a work by Bess Wohl, directed by Leigh Silverman;
Will Pullen in a work by Samuel D. Hunter, directed by Jenna Worsham;
Phillipa Soo in a work by Clare Barron, directed by Steven Pasquale; and
Blair Underwood in a work by Korde Arrington Tuttle.
A musical based on Smash TV series is aiming for Broadway, with Steven Spielberg one of the producers, Shaiman and Wittman the songwriters, Bob Martin & Rick Elice the book-writers. File this under Department of Exciting News, Division of Grain of Salt.
HBO plans to turn Martyna Majok’s play “queens” –– about struggling immigrant women sharing a house — into a series.
.@CharlesMcNulty asks 25 theater people to imagine post-pandemic landscape. Some can’t. Others say “streaming is the new normal”@LynnBrooklyn: we’ll rethink how & where we bring theater to audiences@PattiLuPone:
cleaned, sanitized and fumigated. https://t.co/YLKj3iQPbS
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) May 19, 2020
Rest in Peace
List of NYC healthcare workers who have died because of COVID-19, updated on Memorial Day