When it comes to life handing you lemons, the live entertainment industry has been dealt a blow most sour. The pandemic forced activities like theater and concerts into hiatus – and nobody knows when they will return.
Far from the bright lights and lucrative corporate sponsorships of Broadway, however, small regional and local theaters exist in a perpetual state of having to do more with less. Maybe it’s not so crazy, then, that St. Petersburg’s American Stage found a way to make lemonade – and open their work up to new audiences – that surprised even them.
“I thought that the last thing anyone would want in this current experience would be more screen time, but it’s the complete opposite,” says Patrick A. Jackson, Adult Education Associate at America Stage. “There has been a shift in what’s considered entertainment, which has allowed educational experiences to not only teach, but connect in new and innovative ways.”
Jackson is talking about American Stage Improv’s Study Hall, a part of American Stage’s Virtual Academy Adult Programs. American Stage launched the Virtual Stage and Academy in June – a new effort to engage and teach audiences and students of all ages through live streaming performances and classes.
It’s mission? To connect and converse within the American Stage Improv community, just when many in the performing arts and beyond are feeling most disconnected.
“When we first began the series,” he says, “we discussed topics like comedic duos and comedic characters, allowing us all to have a deeper dive into some of our favorite comedic performers, improvisers and sketch comedy moments.”
The series’ third and most recent installment in July talked about the impact of African American artists on modern comedy.
“As the Black Lives Matter movement was propelled into the full focus of everyone’s minds,” Jackson says, “American Stage had a unique opportunity to not only celebrate the contributions and impact of Black creatives and theatre makers on the American Theatre industry via our Legacy course, but to also focus specifically on the rich contributions of Black comedians and Black comedic programming.”
The July 16 program, held via Zoom, brought players from the improv troupe and the larger community into a conversation about how what’s taught in the ASI program is incorporated into the craft. Moderated by Jackson, the hour-long chat was well-attended and delved into the legacy of a variety of performers, from icons like Richard Pryor, to those not so known, like Moms Mabley.
But is there something lost in the virtual setting? Jackson says maybe not.
“Virtual programs go beyond the physical stage,” he says, “guiding students to shape and elevate their creative voice and technique through unique learning opportunities, and storytelling genres.”
August’s topic of conversation will be “Inside the Writers Room” and focus on creating quality, engaging content that, as Jackson puts it, “has the audience leaning in.”
He adds, “As the series continues, there will be more opportunities to celebrate the contributions of other groups and individuals to the comedy scene and the larger theatre industry. I’m especially excited for our upcoming conversation in September celebrating Latinx Comedy Contributions.”
Upcoming topics include “What’s the Hook?…Musical Improv in Practice,” “When They Go Low, We Go High…The Art of Redirection,” and “Cultivating Community Through Improv.”