In the year since the threat from COVID-19 shuttered first Broadway (on March 12, 2020) and then the remaining physical stages in New York (on March 15), there has been much suffering – lives lost; livelihoods destroyed; mental health threatened by grief, fear, anxiety and isolation…in the theater community and the world at large. But this grim anniversary also offers a moment for theater makers and theater lovers to reflect on a year of resilience and creativity and community. It is something of a paradox, but no exaggeration, to see the theatrical experiments of the past year as a reimagining, and reinvigoration, of an ancient art form.
This is clear in a spate of recent articles that focus on online theater.
“I’ve actually spent more time in a Zoom rehearsal room than in a real-life rehearsal room,” says Orion Slater, 21, one of several creative technologists interviewed by Fergus Morgan in The Stage, all of whom believe that digital theater is here to stay, but, as Morgan puts it, “online content is not going to replace traditional theatre, it is going to augment it.”
“I believe that theatre is storytelling and we are creating a new hybrid art form,” Lily Tung Crystal, artistic director of Theater Mu in Saint Paul, Minn,” tells Kelundra Smith in an article in American Theatre headlined If a Theatre Company Does It, Is It Theatre? detailing the cutting-edge work of the Alliance Theater and Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as Theater Mu.
“It’s not quite theatre in that it’s video and not onstage, and it’s not exactly film or television because it’s live,” Crystal says, “but I still call it theatre.”
“Pandemic limitations” inspired the Wooster Group in its reimagining of Brecht’s The Mother, as Helen Shaw chronicles in Vulture.
“For directors, playwrights and performance artists whose canvas is the three-dimensional stage, the situation has been unimaginably dire,” Charles McNulty writes in the Los Angeles Times (“Theaters hit the one-year anniversary of shutdown. How are artists keeping afloat?“), “but I came away from my conversations with director Daniel Fish, the performance troupe Culture Clash, playwright and performer Dael Orlandersmith, director and visual artist Lars Jan, director Annie Dorsen and playwright and director Richard Maxwell heartened by their tenacity and resiliency.”
This is not to say that everybody is happily Zooming, or Zooming at all. “A colleague said to me last week, ‘I just wish someone had told me in March that it’s going to be one year or 16 months, and then I would have thought about things differently.’ It’s this constant state of postponement and uncertainty,” Fish (the director of the last Broadway revival of “Oklahoma”) told McNulty. “As a result, I’m working on 10 different things, but none of them are going anywhere. It’s very different than going into a room with people and making something. I’m envious of writers and painters right now, but, for better or worse, I have to do it in a room with people. And I can’t do it in a virtual room, or I’m just not that interested in doing it in a virtual room.”
Week in Theater Reviews
“We are in an irregular time,” one college administrator says to another, an excuse for why the school bureaucracy has so failed to meet the challenge of the pandemic period that its losses are incalculable – or, to be more accurate, not calculated; the school is not even testing for Covid, and is trying to “hide” the students who have been hospitalized. (Timely!) The college bureaucracy’s lack of coordination, of communication and, let’s face it, of basic competence has led to one student getting deported, and may explain another student’s suicide.,,,,Jake Shore’s 60-minute play, available on Stellar through March 14th, is a knowing dissection of bureaucracy that takes place on a series of Zoom calls among four administrators.
Jericho,” Jack Canfora’s 2011 play about two characters directly affected by 9/11, should have repelled me. It uses sitcom rhythms, Jewish stereotypes, the hoary devices of a sympathetic ghost and an out-of-control Thanksgiving dinner to explore the characters’ anger, grief and guilt.
As directed by Marsha Mason for a new company called New Normal Rep, however, this well-acted, carefully-designed virtual production, available online through April 4, moved me and amused me far more than I expected.
“To The Moon” begins with scenes of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners” showing his fist to Audrey Meadows as his wife Alice (“To the moon, Alice”), and ends some two hours later with what most abused women surveyed say was the first joke about domestic violence they ever heard:
“What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?”
“Nothing, you already told her twice.”
In-between, Beth Kander has fashioned a play that’s no joke — a “docu-drama,” we are told, that is based on over 200 surveys and 20 in-person interviews with survivors of domestic violence.
The Week in Theater News
These New Yorkers Don’t Care What’s Playing in Theaters. They’re Just Happy to be Back at the Movies (Variety)
Patti Smith will perform at the Brooklyn Museum (and available on NY PopsUp Instagram) on March 9 at 12:30 PM ET honoring the memory of artist Robert Mapplethorpe on the anniversary of his death, March 9, 1989.
Actors’ Equity is warning members that New York City’s just-launched “Open Culture” program of outdoor performances on city streets does not meet the union’s minimum standards for wages or its Covid-19 safety protocols. (Deadline) …the Mayor’s deputy press secretary Mitch Schwartz said, “This program is designed to fill city streets with cultural performances of every description. You could see classically trained orchestras on one street, and an amateur dance troupe on another. That’s what makes it fun and dynamic – but it also means one-size-fits-all regulations don’t really make sense for this program.” (Fox5NY)
Week in Theater Videos
Excerpts from three New York Pops Up shows this past week
A new song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming Cinderella