Theater Blog Roundup: New Yorkers…Pivot. Londoners Experience Socially Distanced Theater.

British bloggers this month swoon over the series of new live, in-person, “socially distanced” theater, “It was wonderful and strange and made me realise how the pandemic has changed the experience,” writes Rev Stan below. Few of us in New York (or North America!)  have had such experiences. “This has been such a strange and challenging time for all of us who are in the performing arts,” says Telly Leung below. “But, I am constantly inspired by my fellow artists and how they’ve found a way to make a positive pivot…” Leung is a prime example.

On About Last Night, Terry Teachout recalled a conversation he had with a friend about New York City:

“This is absolutely the only place to live,” I told her. “Nowhere else.”

“Oh, I guess it’s all right to visit other places,” she replied. “And you could live somewhere else for six months, if you had to. Or maybe even a year.”

“But only if you don’t give up your lease,” I said firmly.

“We giggled, knowing perfectly well that neither one of us had the slightest intention of going anywhere else for more than a week or two….”

But that was 16 years ago, after they’d seen a show, dined (indoors) at an eatery, and gone shopping. He doesn’t comment on whether his friend feels the same way now that they can do none of those things, but I suppose his recalling the conversation suggests that he himself might.

On the other hand, in a later post, Too great a (social) distance, he writes: “Yes, the art world is trying to sound optimistic, but the writing on the wall consists of two ominous words: social distancing.” Museums and symphonies that have reopened are limiting attendance, theaters across the country are aiming for 2021.  “As for Broadway’s 41 theaters, some insiders are now saying that they may not reopen until the fall of 2021. Could it be that social distancing will lead to the end of the arts as we know them?…”

Teachout also reviews the American Shakespeare Center of Virginia’s live, in-person production of “Othello” (which was also presented online.)

“At first glance, this looks like a traditional “Othello,” …But [Ethan McSweeny, the play’s director and the company’s artistic director] pulls one jaw-dropping surprise: Othello is played by a woman, Jessika D. Williams, who is more than up to the challenge posed by one of Shakespeare’s most demanding parts and puts her bold stamp on every line….”

In Bitter Gertrude, Melissa Hillman claims that theater makers make the best employees any field.

“This pandemic means a lot of theater professionals are out of work. I know most corporate people think “flaky actors” and “workplace drama” when thinking about theater people, but the truth is exactly the opposite, and now is the time to jump on actors, playwrights, directors, casting directors, designers, technicians and more who have found themselves newly out of work.

“Working in professional theatre requires intense discipline, the ability to leave all your issues at the door, and a level of multitasking and focus that most employers only dream of finding in an employee.” She enumerates nine traits that are eminently transferable to any occupation.

In another post, entitled “Protect Historically Accurate Casting,”  she argues “whatever era in western history in which your production is set, I assure you that people of color were there. “Historical accuracy” is not an excuse for turning away BIPOC actors; in fact, historical accuracy should compel you to cast them.” — and then runs down some, well, colorful examples.

“The famous Black Madonna of Chartes Cathedral was repainted white in a controversial 2014 restoration.”

On Broadway & Me, Janice Simpson lists her favorite plays and musicals about “working stiffs of all kinds”  from “Anna in the Tropics” by Nilo Cruz, about Cuban immigrants working in a Florida cigar-factory, to “To The Bone,” by Lisa Ramirez, about immigrants in an upstate New York poultry factor, and including such classics as “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

Call Me Adam logo

On Call Me Adam, Adam Rothenberg interviews Telly Leung

‘This has been such a strange and challenging time for all of us who are in the performing arts. But, I am constantly inspired by my fellow artists and how they’ve found a way to make a positive pivot and still make music and art virtually.

“….Besides doing a lot of virtual performing and teaching, I also produced an EP of five songs called YOU MATTER with my musical partner in crime, Gary Adler. He is my longtime collaborator and music director. We recorded the whole thing during lockdown, and without ever seeing each other.


4. How has this time at home changed you and/or the way you think about work moving forward? I find that I appreciate outdoor time a lot more. As a busy New Yorker, I never bother to “stop and smell the roses.” I’m constantly running from one thing to the next. This lockdown has forced all of us to slow down, re-evaluate, and re-examine our lives and what’s important to us. I take a lot of walks in Central Park or by the Hudson, and I find that it recharges me. That’s not something I’d normally make time to do when I was super busy – but I think it’s very important.

On JK’s Theatre Scene,  Jeff Kyler reviews the new e-book Broadway Misfires: Three Decades of Broadway Musical Heartbreak by Mark A. Robinson and Thomas S. Hischak. “I don’t know what it says about me as a theater-goer that in a book about Broadway flops over the past 30 years, I’ve seen 95 of the 151 titles discussed in Broadway Misfires. Of those 95, I can name only a very few that offer zero positive memories; I love flops.This book is squarely in my wheelhouse…”

Onstage Blog’s  Chris Peterson argues Yes, You Need to Be Off-Book for Virtual Performances

In an interview with Canadian actor Gregory Prest, Joe Szekeres asks: As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
Prest answers:
Professionally I think one of the most difficult challenges has been trying to eradicate “meaning” and the need to find it during the heavier more uncertain times, specifically around work, cancelled work, and the uncertainty of future work. But that’s what we do for a living – find meaning – in a moment, a line, a relationship, an exchange, a silence, an exit, an imagined past, a feared failed future – I’m hard-wired that way. I’ve been attempting to sidestep this potential existential crisis by reframing the question of “what does this mean?” to “what’s the opportunity here?” My success rate is questionable. There’s some radical acceptance involved.

Pocket Size Theater reviews Pippin at the Garden Theatre… “the venue and the staff are doing everything they possibly can to make this a safe and comfortable experience for all of their patrons. All staff have protective masks on and the bar is covered with screens, they’ve sure stepped up their game since my last visit!”

Rev Stan theatre blog banner

Rev Stan’s Theatre Blog experiences socially distanced theater at Bread and Roses as a revelation, in a show called F**K Off,  and also reviews “Faith Healer” which was presented “In Camera” at the Old Vic. (live-streamed on stage in real time without an audience.) The closeness of the performances bridged the divide between audience and performer, the collective experience you get from sitting in a physical theatre felt irrelevant.

For Theatre’s Leiter Side, Samuel Leiter continues to post entries from his unpublished Encyclopedia of The New York Stage, 1970-1976, each entry a different show, organized alphabetically.  One of his latest is The Me Nobody Knows, “based on poetry and prose composed by New York City ghetto children and collected in a volume edited by a young teacher.” (Perhaps he should rethink that adjective.) ” A dozen performers (eight of them black and Latino), ranging in age from seven to 18, presented the spirited, rowdy, and often extremely touching material with great skill and energy. Drugs, poverty, crime, and violence dominated the subject matter of their songs.”

West End Theatreland recounted the experience of seeing the socially distanced “Sleepless,” a musical based on the movie Sleepless in Seattle, which is “the first fully staged musical to open inside a theatre since all the venues sadly closed back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.” It’s a bit odd that the author says virtually nothing about the contents of the musical itself, focusing almost entirely on the circumstances of their attendance – although there is no question that was dramatic:

“the front of house greeted us with a smile that we could see through a plastic window in their masks,…Once our temperature was checked and they made sure we had masks, we were allowed into their outdoor area with a bar and some seating where we had to scan a QR code and provide our contact details for NHS Track and Trace. This way, should there be an outbreak, they could contact us so we self-isolate and help contain the spread of the virus…After finding our seats, the show began and we forgot everything about the virus, the pandemic and the whole crisis we’re currently living. After all, isn’t that what theatre is all about?”

Author: New York Theater

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

1 thought on “Theater Blog Roundup: New Yorkers…Pivot. Londoners Experience Socially Distanced Theater.

  1. Having no theater is one of the most frustrating things about the pandemic. Shows I wanted to see on tour got postponed. So now have to write even longer to see Anastasia and Frozen

    Nothing beats the power of live theater- Blumenthal promised Charlotte they will return. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center is why I am able to see musicals. When you live in Charlotte, NC- it is difficult to even see shows on Broadway. So thankful for Blumenthal- Hadestown is coming October of 2021. Hoping that is enough time for Blumenthal to open their doors again

Leave a Reply