Every work of theater I saw this past week was live and in person – which would have been an impossibility a year ago, and an insane thing to say two years ago…because what else was there then?
Now there is digital theater. Will it last? Will it be respected?
That concerns Jared Mezzocchi, a multimedia theater artist who has had a hand in some of the best examples of the genre (like “Russian Troll Farm”) and who has turned his Twitter feed into a kind of campaign on its behalf.
I came face to face with the indifference of theater critics and others towards the remarkable experiments in theater (yes, theater) during the pandemic, so I created my own American Connected Theater Awards. I was subsequently happy to see that the 87th annual Drama League Awards, one of the oldest theater awards in the country, stepped up to the moment by honoring primarily digital theatrical productions, and then a work of digital theater was one of two finalists for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Now comes a report that lends the work further legitimacy.
The National Endowment for the Arts has released a 126-page report, Tech as Art: Supporting Artists Who Use Technology as a Creative Medium (pdf download.)
The study began in 2019 and casts a wider net than what blossomed on the Internet during the pandemic. But there are numerous mentions of various experiments in what Jared and others have been calling digital theater (although, as the report points out, “because the field is so diverse and dynamic, it has eluded easy labels.”)
A paragraph on page 44:
“COVID-19 quarantines spurred performers to translate theater techniques to video conferencing platforms. In addition, some artists were already experimenting with virtual performances prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns. For example, Los Angeles-based studio Tender Claws combines gameplay with storytelling and immersive theater performance, allowing live actors to interact with audiences during remote performances….”
Among the key findings of the report:
“Tech-centered artists are admirably poised to grapple with larger societal and sectoral challenges—whether engaging with audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic or responding to calls for greater equity and inclusion in the arts and technology. They can be invaluable partners for policymakers, educators, and practitioners in arts and non-arts sectors alike.”
Late last year, the University of Exeter produced a more focused report, “Digital Theatre Transformation” that uses Creation Theatre of the UK’s Zoom production of “The Tempest” as a case study and explores (as collaborating theater company Big Telly puts it) how digital theater effected “the theatrical colonisation of domestic space….stepping into people’s worlds. Redefining accessibility, inclusivity, interaction. New ways to play” The report also included a digital toolkit, with helpful tips on creating theater on Zoom, which begs the question: Going forward, will anybody be using it? (For those not in the know: Zoom ≠ digital theater; it’s only one platform.)
The Week in Theater Reviews
Lust was the best. Everybody seemed to agree, and it wasn’t just because Cynthia Nixon was in the cast. But, in truth, none of the eight short plays by some of America’s most original playwrights are what is most thrilling about “The Seven Deadly Sins,” the site-specific theatrical anthology taking place in makeshift storefronts and outdoor stages in the Meatpacking District. What’s most exciting is that the audience members could watch them (and discuss them) together, live and in person.
“The Watering Hole,” an art installation that takes over nearly every nook and cranny of The Pershing Square Signature Center, is meant to be healing and calming…like water….the ten installations through which a masked guide leads us — each short piece riffing on the theme of water or theater or both — start to feel like part of a sacred ritual: Stations of the Muse?… some arresting lines, some vivid designs. On the whole, though, “The Watering Hole” turned out to be a depressing experience.
“Enemy of the People” at the Park Avenue Armory remakes Ibsen’s drama into a striking one-woman show starring Ann Dowd that forces us to realize our complicity in the lead poisoning of the Flint, Michigan water system; the collapse of the condo in Surfside, Florida; the violent debate over when to reopen; the attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci; the attack on the Capitol Building.
Director Robert Icke doesn’t explicitly mention any of these events, but the ethical conflicts that they illustrate were certainly on the minds of many of the theatergoers, because all of us had to make decisions about similar conflicts in the play.
The Week in Theater News
Lynn Nottage’s new play “Clyde’s” will open at Second Stage Theater’s Hayes on November 22, 2021; a revival of Richard Greenburg’s “Take Me Out” on April 4, 2022, also at Hayes. A revival of “Plaza Suite” starring Matthew Broderick an Sarah Jessica Parker has announced an opening date of March 28, 2022. That now makes FORTY TWO shows with specific dates in the Broadway 2021-2022 season.
Second Stage has also announced the dates for their two Off Broadway shows of the season: Rajiv Josephs’ Letters of Suresh will open October 4, 2021, and JC Lee’s To My Girls on April 14. That adds to the Off Broadway 2021-2022 season.
David Geffen has given $150 million to the Yale School of Drama to make it tuition-free, starting in August. But it comes with a catch: It’s been renamed The David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University
Ephraim Sykes has left “MJ the Musical” to make a movie. Replacing him as Michael Jackson is newcomer Myles Frost
The Chicago Tribune has made its theater critic Chris Jones the editor of the editorial page, without hiring a new theater critic. Jone says he’ll still be reviewing the “major” shows. This follows “the exodus of more than 40 journalists who accepted buyouts from the Tribune’s new owners, New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital.”
Grossed: $650 million. Getting from Govt: $30-50 Million
On Broadway, “Hamilton” has been seen by 2.6 million people and grossed $650 million. “So why is the show getting $30 million in relief from the federal government, with the possibility of another $20 million coming down the road?” Michael Paulson asks in the New York Times. Producer Jeffrey Seller, who in 2018 reportedly had a net worth of $8 million, agreed to an interview to explain.
“It’s returning us to health and it’s protecting the well-being of our employees.”
“Our goal is for ‘Hamilton’ to be in the same financial position it was in when we suspended operations on March 12, 2020.”
Paulson also reports:
As of Monday, the administration said that among the entities getting $10 million, which is the maximum available for a single grant, were two Broadway landlords, the Nederlander Organization, which controls nine Broadway theaters (one of which houses “Hamilton”), and Jujamcyn Theaters, which controls five, as well as the Roundabout Theater Company, a nonprofit that runs three Broadway houses. David Byrne’s Broadway show, “American Utopia,” was also among those getting $10 million. Nederlander affiliates that run commercial theaters in Los Angeles and Chicago each got $10 million. Three Broadway touring productions managed by NETWorks were given grants — $10 million for “Fiddler on the Roof”; $9.8 million for “Waitress”; and $9 million for “The Band’s Visit.” Even a nightspot frequented by Broadway fans and artists did well: Feinstein’s/54 Below got $3.6 million.