New York Theater Workshop, like the Keen Company mentioned a couple of times in my blog posts recently, has really stepped up its game. This is from today’s email to me: “HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OUR VIRTUAL THEATRE this week, including ourMONDAYS @3 andWORKSHOP WEDNESDAYS series!” And which goes on to say: “Our programming is free and open to the public, just make sure to register in advance! All artists who contribute to these important online gatherings are compensated.
If you’re in the position to make a gift to support our work, we hope you’ll consider doing so—even $5, $10, $25 makes a big difference.”
Since the connection the theaters are providing us is so invaluable, we all should consider donating if we can. Even for free programming. Like NYTW, Keen is asking for financial assistance with a campaign and a matching funds donor. Other companies, from DTH which is offering dance fitness classes to the above cited JLC, to the New York City Ballet (with a digital Spring Season,) all need support and friendship from us.
In the meantime, they are all contributing what they do best to each of us.
The efforts of most of New York’s theaters have focussed on keeping a connection to their loyal audiences while staying home. Keen Company has launched a QuaranKeen initiative which asks “What can Keen do for you?” Lincoln Center is offering classes and entertainment for your little ones trapped at home; it is simply, if not too cleverly, referred to as Lincoln Center AT HOME. Playwrights’ Horizons has set up plays for your ears at Soundstage; now streaming is Robert O’Hara’s Gather, and Prime by Heather Christian. The Dance Theatre of Harlem is helping us Stay Fit with free live open classes. Roundabout is offering on-line viewing as well in a series of at home with the stars videos called Roundabout Off-Script, one of which I share below:
Theater professionals want to stay connected as well as active. Their lives are about performance and communicating with their audience. Their forii are gone, for now. Or transformed into virtual spaces.
Works & Process Virtual Commissions has set up a grant to artists who have participated with Works & Process at the Guggenheim so that these artists can continue to connect, communicate and touch an audience via youtube.com, Facebook, and Instagram programming. The commissions are for short form work, mostly less than 5 minutes.
Isn’t it astounding how well you can remember annoyances? Some of us like to think we hold on to only the pleasant memories, but really we tend to focus on the past ills. How accurately is another issue, although I like to think I have 100% recall on disturbances past.
I think I remember where each of these incidents took place, but I know I am not 100% certain or correct in my associations.
The ones I do recall are, in order of irritant, with ringing cellphones at the top:
the occasion on which Bebe Neuwirth derided a patron whose cell phone went off during a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids event just moments after the announcement to shut all phones. As usual she was merciless.
Louis Ozawa Changchien stayed in character in Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class, responding to the incessant ringing by saying “It’s loud in here.”
Also staying in character, Benjamin Walker was menacing when a patron decided to answer the call. Walker was the titular American Psycho in the short-lived musical. We did not witness this, but heard that he said “You don’t want to have Patrick mad at you.”
Another unexpected irritant is the dog in the theater. Of course, I am equally appalled to find him/her at my grocer or bakery.
The occasion upon which a “trauma dog” participated in the action at an off-Broadway theater sticks in my memory, of course. I admit that it did only occur that once at a play called Row After Row.
People who come to the theater to have a nice chat with their companions are a very disturbing lot. They are legion.
Sometimes the chatter is excused as “I need to explain this to my little girl.” An excuse my husband was willing to accept but which just infuriated me. This was at a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank, and the mother explained to us (at intermission) that the little girl’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
A far more imaginative alibi was at a Roundabout performance of The Cherry Orchard. The lady I shushed told me other people were talking. She was, of course, referring to the actors on the stage! Of course.
Noisy audiences come in various forms. Each is a nuisance, of course, but these two were particularly creative in their peskiness:
We had great seats for The Country Girl starring Frances McDormand, Morgan Freeman and Peter Gallagher. We were very excited to be there, as was the man who took the aisle seat next to us. He said he knew Freeman. All was well until about midway Act I, when our new friend could not stop coughing and choking.
The play was Wendy Wasserstein’s American Daughter. Front row in the mezzanine at the Cort Theater, a neighboring attendee chose to have a snack. Not just any snack but in this case an apple. That packed quite the crunch.
QuaranKeen is keeping us connected. Today they sent us a series of YouTube videos in whcih we can wash our hands (a vital # these days) with Keen Alums.
Join in with all of them above. I will be spending a lot of time emulating their style.
These videos reminded me of an American Songbook event some years back with the talented classically trained coloratura soprano, Kristen Chenoweth in which she presciently gave a hand sanitizing demo. I don’t recall what prompted her to do this before launching into her concert at the Allen Room (Lincoln Center), but it did include her singing “Happy Birthday” while cleaning her hands.
Thanks to a CNN morning briefing, I am listening to this #confinement_orchestra playing Ravel’s Bolero. It is as enspiriting as ever. perhaps a bit more uplifting in the current circumstances:
Arts organizations everywhere are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis it brings into our lives. Lincoln Center responded with much needed programming for kids at Lincoln Center At Home. They are also showing a Hip Hop Dance Workshop and many other enticements and delights.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem, a troupe that always did lift my spirits, is offering a Ballet Barre class today on Instagram:
So much more of this kind of endeavor to stay #AloneTogether is out there for us to stay active and engaged, connected and happier. Cheers!
And in today’s in-box, April 10th, from one of the actors whose performances always pleased:
We have given up a lot to the coronavirus. For our own safety and that of those around us, we voluntarily restricted our freedom of movement (#Stay_Home) and our love of congeniality (#SocialDistancing). We traded our daily routines of work and cocktail hour for being at home and meeting via Zoom. We have become shutins and anti-social. We don’t go out except to walk six feet apart from others, just for the sake of getting some air.
What we give up when we indulge in at-home theater viewing is
1. the live-actors-in-real-time theater experience
2. the 4th wall
2a. “great seats”
3. the chance to go out, dress up and make a night of it
4. the spontaneity of a flubbed line and a good save
1. The action is pre-recorded, or, if contemporaneous, involves only one actor
2. The distance between you and the stage is filtered through a screen.
2a. You still have the best seats in the house.
3. You may well be in your pjs, as so many of us are these days, or workout clothes.
3a. Your dinner may have been oreos or a box of mini-wheats.
4. If there is a flub or a falter, it ceases to be spontaneous once taped.
5.. You are likely watching alone on a laptop or tablet.
5a. At most, you are likely part of an audience of 2.
The privacy of your home is a sanctuary into which you are bringing a sacred event. Cool. But not the same as experiencing theatrical expressions in a theater space.
As I said in a recent post, theater artists also yearn to stay active, contribute and engage in what they love. Audiences are part and parcel of what they love to do. Broadway World is sharing updates about shutdowns and “Living Room Concerts” with me as well as “Songs from the Vault” and “157 Musicals and Shows You Can Watch Online.” Their “Broadway Rewind” took me down memory lane to some productions I really enjoyed over the years.
Roundabout Theatre Company sent an email with encouraging tidbits, including this montage from last season’s Kiss Me Kate:
Dance Theater of Harlem reached out with a newsletter on their 50 Forward which includes a video of a signature dance by Louis Johnson, who died in March, created by him for the company in 1972. Forces of Rhythm remained in the DTH repertory alongside works by Arthur Mitchell and George Balanchine.
New York Theatre Workshop’s email announced Virtual Programming; it is no great wonder that these companies are also looking for donations to help them tide over in these tough “shutdown” days. It is remarkable how much creativity is being put to alternative use!
Theater has always been the live in-person contrast to filmed entertainments. There are actors and script writers (or playwrights) as well as costume and scenic designers for both media. But in theater, the action takes place right in front of you.
Covid-19 changes that. I am reviewing, as it were, a LaMaMa production of Pananadem (Remembering) which had its New York premiere on March 12th. The work is highly stylized and a ritualized demonstration of a traditional way of presentation.
Watching it on my laptop screen is at once fulfilling and distracting. Other things keep me equally occupied while I participate with Kinding Sindaw Melayu Heritage broadcast. It is filmed from all angles by HowlRound TV network and is a very lively experience. The costumes are colorful and the dancing a tribute to the indigenous peoples of the southern Phillipines.
Theaters from all over are offering at home viewing (as are museums) so without boarding a plane, train or automobile, I can see a LaJolla Playhouse production of JerseyBoys or Friday’s presentation of Escape to Margaritaville or a dance session.
Closer to home, Urban Stages is offering a variety of programs to entertain your children, “keep the creative juices flowing” while stuck at home and so forth. The Broadway Podcast Network is also here to help; this one links to Bleeding Love, a post apocalyptic musical play with book by Jason Schafer, music by Arthur Lafrentz Bacon and lyrics by Harris Doran.
Keen Company cleverly calls their playlist QuaranKeen videos. There are 61 mostly solo plays to choose from, some posted before we were isolating. The effort is part of the “What can Keen Company do for you?” initiative.