As parts of our economy have reopened, one industry that has remained almost completely shut down in the wake of the pandemic is live theater. Social distancing is obviously a problem for a medium built on the interaction between audience and actors – but several theaters across St. Pete are finding their way back.
According to Community Outreach Director Matthew McGee, freeFall Theatre went into a “state of hibernation” as of March 15, cutting short by two weeks the run of its hit Lone Star Spirits, causing the entire run of Dear Worldto be cancelled, and prompting the world premiere of Artistic Director Eric Davis and Michael Raabe’s Ozto be pushed to next summer.
The response from freeFall has been to to engage its community of artists in virtual programming that revisits a deep catalog of past productions in fresh, thoughtful ways.
“We immediately sent patrons to our YouTube page,” says McGee, “where we have a large collection of ‘Making of’ featurettes courtesy of filmmaker Leigh Simons. One of my favorites being the three-part documentary on freeFall’s smash hit The Normal Heart.”
Inspired by The National Theatre in London’s move to recently begin presenting some of its productions for free on YouTube, Davis decided to create National Theatre Wednesdays where viewers can discuss the NT productions with freefFall’s production team on Zoom. And in June, a new series of shorts called OUTSIDE THE BOX will tell the stories of some of freeFall’s favorite productions over the years.
“The new series will be hopeful,” McGee says, “and we look forward to sparking conversation on what it takes to make theatre happen from the perspective of actors and the creative team.”
Over at American Stage, Marketing Communications Coordinator Martina Smith describes the two forms the theater’s return has been taking – Virtual Academy and Virtual Stage.
“Virtual programming includes play readings, creative tips videos, adult and youth classes, summer camp, community conversations and more,” says Smith.
Virtual Academy will continue American Stage’s long history of diverse educational content for adults and students, adapted for an online environment. It will include Summer Shorts, a collection of live performances and videos that audiences can watch from home, Spotlight, a podcast which features a wide range of guests who share insights into the ideas, creativity and humanity underlying American Stage’s work and art of live theater. Creative Conversations, a series of live weekly virtual community roundtables hosted by CEO/Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte, will covera range of topics about the arts during and after COVID-19.
(More information, including how to register for classes and camps, can be found at americanstage.org.)
Corralette Damme, Marketing & Administrative Director at the Studio@620, describes how that very active multipurpose artistic space is working to evolve its programming for these unique times.
“During the pandemic The Studio@620 has largely gone to virtual programming,” Damme says, “We’ve done several live broadcasts via Facebook Live and continue to hold weekly poetry readings and other literary programs in this manner. We’ve also broadcast concerts and have plans for some round table discussions and virtual art exhibits.”
One innovative program @620 has been running for several weeks now is Tiny Bedtime Plays for Kids and the Stressed Out, created by local playwright Sheila Cowley. Here live actors present short plays over the phone and the audience attends live via conference call.
“It’s a brand new project designed for the times we’re experiencing now,” says Cowley, “and comes from my work as a playwright and as an audio producer.”
The idea, she says, was to create live performance opportunities for actors and audience members, with everybody safe at home.
“People are surprised that it’s not a recording, but that’s the point,” she says, “it’s a live performance that gives you an intimate but safe way to connect.”
Learn more at Studio@620’s homepage. You can follow all these programs, or contribute a donation to help keep local theater alive, at each venue’s respective websites.
Featured image: The stars of freeFall’s production of Marie and Rosetta, before the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of freeFall Theatre.
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