Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Producing Theater Online

Clockwise from top left: self, Brian Pedaci, Chennelle Bryant-Harris, Carrie Williams
"The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth"
(Brave Spirits Theatre, 2020)

Now let us speak in defense of "Zoom Theatre."

I have not witnessed as many plays online as perhaps I should have by now. There are plentiful professional recordings of plays from before the quarantine that were shot before an audience using several cameras. Like movies, they are.

Hamilton will be released on July 3, and it will appear as one of those. Even more bizarre, filmed iin the summer of 2016 by a company and for an audience who have no idea that Donald J. Trump is about to be elected President of the United States.

We have been paying to stream independent film, but I really should be accessing productions from behind a paywall to support theaters. The critics on Three On the Aisle have promoted several events which, unlike their former offerings in New York City and elsewhere, I can actually view from the safety of my own home.

However, in spite of my desire to support my fellow artists, I have avoided diving too deeply into the world of “Zoom Readings.” There have been plentiful opportunities to hear actors read new scripts or even the works of Shakespeare, but when you spend your working day staring at a screen, returning to it for entertainment is a particular investment.

Speaking of which, anyone else's butt hurt? I mean, from sitting? Just me? I digress.

There have been some impressive attempts to elevate the medium, and the time that goes into them makes the experience much more rewarding.

Earlier this week I was a participant in the Brave Spirits Theatre reading of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, a forerunner to and by all accounts the inspiration for not only Shakespeare’s own Henry V play, but also the Henry IV plays.

Running at only ninety minutes, this work, entirely in prose and whose author is lost to history, the work his none of the grand poetic turns of Shakespeare’s work (nothing to match “Muse of Fire” nor “Band of Brothers”, no “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world” to be found here) it’s full of humor, drama and above all jingoistic bravado, this is by all records the play that created the English appetite for historical drama.

Bedroom Studio
Directed by Kelly Elliott (she also directed Shakespeare’s Henry V for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival last summer) we had a couple rehearsals before performing once, live streaming on YouTube.

The thing about Zoom performances is that it is incumbent upon the actors to provide their own costume, to create their own set, and must work together to create props which, if shared, need to be identical. We had great fun putting it all together, and it was helpful and rewarding that BST provided dramaturgical commentary before and after the work. Any technical issues could be addressed in real time in the comments section, which was also a bonus. Some of us were even following along “backstage.” It was kinetic, lively, and loud.

There is a certain forgiveness audiences will provide a free performance, generously offered by a company trying to connect with their audience during this quarantine, and even it has to be said, to remain relevant.

Last weekend my wife and I paid admission (they had asked for a minimum one dollar donation) to watch Cleveland Public Theatre present a live “virtual reading” of Excerpts from Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation by India Nicole Burton.

Also a history play, about the women of the Black Panther Party, presented in prose, verse and dance, it was a highly choreographed piece, had a fluidity by featuring few performers (four, the screen was complete the entire performance) and it was brief, only forty minutes.

CPT is also creates a sense of live theater by giving audience members the chance to communicate before and after the performance (not during) and these online offerings not archived. They’re live, like theater should be, and not recorded. Subtle differences in performance, or outright mistakes, are for that audience only.

That one way, that one time, just for us. Just like live theater.

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