Four Months of Shutdown: What “theater” now means

Floating Theater on the Seine

#Stageworthy News.

If “Hamilton” on Disney+  having become the most-viewed streaming video is not evidence enough of the expanding definition of “theater,” I saw eight plays last week (reviewed below) – three live on Zoom, five  recordings of previous productions on stage.

It’s been four months since physical theaters were shut down, and only now are we beginning to see the promise of theater on an unmediated stage: Actors Equity has allowed its member to perform in two shows in the Berkshires in August; there’s a small show in New York afternoon that’s live in person…but also online. Disney World reopened over the weekend in Florida, to considerable criticism, but there is little expectation of any major reopening of New York theaters until next Spring (and even then,”there may be more dark theaters when we open” — see The Week in Theater News below.)

Meanwhile, companies have been exploring and experimenting. There’s been a surge in radio drama — with the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park taking place instead starting tonight as episodic radio drama on WNYC; a new production of “The Tempest” is a live, scripted, participatory play that you attend, from home, using a virtual reality headset. There is now drive-in theater, and even, in Paris, the promise of a floating theater in the Seine, watched by people in their boats; that’s intended for movie screenings only, but what is “theater” these days but screenings?

Of course, there are holdouts: “Plenty of people, starved for theater, are gorging on it digitally. But to feel its full force, you have to be there — to absorb it physically,” writes New York Times critic Laura Collins-Hughes 

Her colleagues discuss the last four monthsincluding “Mad Forest” (my review), which I considered a next-generation innovation of Zoom as an artistic medium,  and the Apple play on Zoom, “What Do We Need To Talk About” (my review)

The Week in Reviews
The Week in News
The Week in Videos

The Week in Theater Reviews

The Few

Expires July 16

Watching Gideon Glick’s expressive face in The Few–  elated one moment, defeated the next,  then adoring, angry, hurt, resigned —  is one key to unlocking the mystery of how this Play-PerView no-frills Zoom reading of Samuel D. Hunter’s 2014 Off-Broadway play can be so entertaining and amusing, even though its story is grim, its pacing is slow, and its three characters are facing loneliness, fighting despair, and worried about the coming apocalypse. (My review)

Summer Stock Streaming Festival

The Mint’s Summerstock Streaming Festival
Expires July 19
There are three plays from The Mint’s archives, written between 1911 and 1946, each offering a kind of porto-feminist take on the women characters. If you only have patience for one, the most briskly directed is “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly. The plays are free but, apparently for contractural reasons, you need to request a password and enter your e-mail address. (My review)

The Deep Blue Sea
Expires July 19
On the surface, The Deep Blue Sea might seem a love triangle, but Helen McCrory’s performance makes it a prism — multifaceted, disorienting, and brilliant – in the National Theatre’s 2016 production of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play. (My review)

The Line
Expires August 4
In this latest documentary play by the team that produced “The Exonerated” and “Coal Country,” a starry, spot-on cast portray seven real-life frontline medical workers in New York– two doctors, three nurses, an Emergency Medical Technician and a paramedic — who tell their wartime stories of dealing with COVID-19. The concrete details of their lives and the stories they tell are devastating. (My review)

Unveiled

Rohina Malik was inspired to write and perform “Unveiled,” her one-woman play about five different Muslim women — which is streaming online one because “I was concerned about the negative stereotyping of Muslims in our TV shows and movies,” she said via Zoom in the live talk-back after this afternoon’s streaming of the taped play. “ My community was always depicted as the bad guys.  I rarely saw just regular people.” ….As distinct as they are, all the characters wear the hijab, head covering (as does Malik), and they all serve a different variety of tea (which, when Malike performs on stage, are offered to the theatergoers) The stories they tell are all traumatic…But then the character finds the strength to go on. (My review)

The Copper Children
Expires July 15
$15
The Copper Children,” is a play by Karen Zacarias based on a horrifying true story of immigrant toddlers shipped from New York City to Arizona in 1904 that led to a custody case newspapers dubbed the trial of the century. If there are echoes in this historical drama of the current family separations at the border, the specific series of events depicted in this arresting play chronicles an almost surreal combustion of desperation and bigotry. (My review)

The Week in Theater News

The 65th annual Obie Awards, celebrating Off and Off-Off Broadway theater, will be presented online on Tuesday, July 14, with host Cole Escola, on the Wing’s YouTube channel. (Initially scheduled to stream on June 4, they were delayed in response to the Black Lives Matter moment.)

Broadway sheds over 3,000 Job as the theater industry stares into the abyss
“It’s probably 98% unemployment,” said Randy Anderson, director of contract affairs for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a major Broadway union with 4,300 members nationally. “To say that this is an existential crisis is probably an understatement,” said Adam Krauthamer, president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The local has around 1,300 members who work on Broadway. “I think it is possible, though we don’t know that yet, that there may be more dark theaters when we open,” said Charlotte St. Martin of The Broadway League, the trade association of theater owners and presenters.. “I think it would be unrealistic of us to assume we’d come back at the same pace that we’ve been at the last two years.”

$10,000 CARES Act Grants for NYC Theaters

What Does the Public Want From Art in a Post-COVID World? Here Are 5 Takeaways From a Massive New Study

The Week in Videos

Scott Siegel’s Great American Songbook Concert Series: Volume 6

Interview with The Flea artistic director Niegel Smith

Broadway Up Close tours have gone virtual. Here’s the latest

Black Theatre United Virtual Town Hall with Sherrilyn Ifill, Audra McDonald, Wendell Pierce and LaChanze.

Sarah Smallwood Parsons hilarious spoof of a theater song

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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