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Although NYC performance venues remain closed, theatres in other regions are finding creative ways to present live shows in front of audiences
Yes, online performances continue to dominate the spotlight, but as we enter month six of the pandemic in NYC, theatres in other parts of the world (and state!) are finding innovative ways to present in-person productions while keeping audiences and artists safe. Although Broadway won't return in 2020, here's how other venues are going on with the show.
Socially Distanced at the Drive-In
Drive-ins aren't just making a comeback for movies. Some are also hosting live shows that audiences can watch from the safety of their cars. Over in Prague, they've been at the wheel for a while, ever since the Czech National Theatre relocated to a parking lot in May. But there have been drive-in productions closer to NYC, such as the family musical SuperYou, which played a Duchess County drive-in, and the Book & Blanket Players' Piano Portal, a 20/20 Time Travel Musical, which performed drive-in style on a former polo field in Essex County. In Hudson Valley, Tony-nominated director Michael Arden even workshopped an immersive drive-through/walk-through hybrid. And in December, Atlanta's Alliance Theatre is planning a drive-in production of A Christmas Carol. While Times Square can't exactly transform into a drive-in, especially considering cars are verboten on Broadway, we hope this model serves as inspiration for more regional productions.
Other productions cut the cars and are just performing outdoors at a distance. From August 6 to September 20, the Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, MA is presenting Godspell under a tent in its parking lot. Audiences will be limited, tickets and programs digital, and masks required; the cast will also isolate together in a house and undergo regular coronavirus testing. Elsewhere in Pittsfield, Barrington Stage Company is mounting David Cale's one-man play Harry Clarke in a tent in the parking lot of the nearby Polish Community Club from August 5 to 16. (It was originally supposed to be staged indoors but the Massachusetts government said nope.) These are the first two productions approved by Actors' Equity Association since the pandemic began. There are also lots of alfresco concerts coming up in August, including Barrington's Rodgers and Hammerstein revue August 19 to 29 and solo cabaret shows at Forestburgh Playhouse in Sullivan County, NY by Tony winner Alice Ripley and others.
Closer to home, Off-Off Broadway's HERE Arts Center is presenting Beast Visit August 20 to 27 in Brooklyn's Rubulad sculpture garden for 13 audience members each performance. Created by The Drunkard's Wife, the piece is billed as "a sunset encounter with some lonesome creatures"…at a distance, of course.
Hybrid Productions: In Person and Online
Until there's a vaccine, presenting live theatre with a small in-person audience with many more watching online may become the new normal. That's what Food for Thought Productions did with a recent reading in Midtown Manhattan. That's also how New Hampshire's Weathervane Theatre is presenting its summer season, so if you can't make it in person to see its productions of the musical Heathers and Stephen Karam's drama Speech & Debate this August, you can watch the shows online (TDF members even get a discount). Virginia's American Shakespeare Center is also planning in-person performances of Othello and Twelfth Night that will be streamed. We expect to see more of this model moving forward, especially from non-union theatres (for more info on what that's about, read this excellent American Theatre article).
But Wait, There's Indoors
Although Andrew Lloyd Webber's recent West End performance experiment made the composer insist that socially distancing in large venues is not viable, some theatres are trying to make it work. The new musical Sleepless, based on the beloved rom-com Sleepless in Seattle, begins previews on August 25 at London's Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre with reduced seating and instructions to ticket buyers to purchase within their "social bubble." Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, the world's longest-running play, is gearing up to return to London's St. Martin's Theatre and they're having fun with their messaging: "The case re-opens October 23." And in the spirit of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, London's immersive The Great Gatsby has been reimagined as a masquerade party—perfect for masks and choreographed for social distancing. Of course the biggest indoor theatre success during COVID-19 has been in South Korea, where The Phantom of the Opera's comprehensive safety measures sans socially distancing have kept the show going on. We're hoping what the industry learns from these pioneering productions will help Broadway's curtains rise safely once again in 2021.
Would you attend a show in any of these scenarios? Let us know in the comments!
Elyse Orecchio is TDF's Online Presence Manager. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter at @elyseo. Follow TDF on Twitter at @TDFNYC.