Category Archives: Events

THEATRE COMPANIES IN UK TIER 3 AREAS DESCRIBE ‘SHOCK AND HEARTBREAK’ ·

(Lanre Bakare’s article appeared in the UK Guardian, 12/3; Photo: Nottingham Playhouse says its Cinderella pantomime and Jack and the Beanstalk family show will now only be available to stream online Photograph: David Baird/PA.)

Many venues and groups say stricter Covid restrictions means they will struggle financially

Theatres and touring companies in tier 3 areas have described their “shock and heartbreak” at being prevented from opening despite months of preparation and investment in Covid-19 safety measures.

While businesses such as gyms and hairdressers are able to open in areas with the highest coronavirus rates, theatres are not, leaving many unable to make money in the usually busy Christmas period.

Stephanie Sirr, the chief executive of Nottingham Playhouse, said the new stricter version of tier 3, which requires theatres to remain closed, means that the venue’s Cinderella pantomime and Jack and the Beanstalk family show will now only be available to stream online.

Sirr said the Playhouse had spent about £80,000 on Covid-19 measures, including temperature checkers, hand sanitiser and disinfection of surfaces, in anticipation of a socially-distanced Christmas season going ahead. In a normal year, Sirr estimated the Playhouse would expect to take about £900,000, but forecast it would take less than £100,000 for an online-only Christmas.

“It’s really baffling,” she said. “We’ve literally bent over backwards to create something that works brilliantly in this setting and then they say: ‘We’ve changed our mind for no apparent reason about theatres.’”

“You can wander into a shop in just a mask but to get into the Nottingham Playhouse you have to temperature check, you have to have a hand sanitiser, you have to wear a mask and you have to be 2 metres away from someone.”

For theatres in cities including Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester, which are also in tier 3, online versions of productions could be the only option, while London venues, including the West End, will be allowed to open for socially-distanced performances.

Theatre companies in tier 3 can still rehearse performances but will have to wait until 16 December to find out if they are coming out of the strictest restrictions and can put on socially-distanced Christmas shows.

The National Theatre launched an on-demand theatre viewing platform this week, at a cost of £9.98 a month, with its executive director and joint chief executive Lisa Burger saying it is “something that can deliver an income stream right now and into the foreseeable future”, as audiences move online because of the pandemic.

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ANITA DURST, CHASHAMA, TALKS WITH BOB OST AND THE TRU COMMUNITY ·

On Friday,  11/27 at 4:30pm, Anita Durst talked with Executive Director Bob Ost and the TRU Zoom Community Gathering about an organization she founded twenty-five years ago, one that supports artists by offering them free space–to create and show work (for one to four week periods). Chashama, pronounced sha-SHAH-ma—its Farci for “to have vision”–may be one of the last vestiges of live art and theatre available during the pandemic.  Window performances or storefront theatre continue to be allowed during COVID; behind glass, an inventive soloist, or distanced actors, dancers, and other artists–probably running repeatable shorts–may livestream onto the street, set up speakers for sound, or, as was more commonly done in 1995, ask viewers to call into a radio station.  Painting or sculpture also may be shown, as in a gallery—and those who need time to simply create can apply for a residency in picturesque Pine Plains, New York, near Rhinebeck. 

Durst, who has a street named for her in New York City and provides spaces in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Matawan, New Jersey and upstate New York,  probably likes the adventurous best—she has worked with the New York City Fire Department to program “Free Tornado,” using real flames. Although she must postpone until 2021, her popular yearly gala, uses multiple floors in an office building to house, sometimes wandering, performance artists and art.  Years ago, she saw the need for affordable areas to work in and show skill.  Today, she not only continues to meet that need, but also may be a last purveyor who can remind us of art as we once viewed it.

–Bob Shuman, Stage Voices

Don’t forget: ESTELLA SCROOGE TICKETS,  TRU’s 12/18 VIEWING PARTY.

EAT UP! DRAMA IS SERVED AT THESE FAMILY DINNERS ·

(Maya Phillips’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/25; Photo:  The ultimate hellish family gathering: Dinner with the Westons in Tracy Letts’s “August: Osage County.”Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

With fewer guests at the table this Thanksgiving, theatrical reminders that food, drink and reminiscence can unsettle as well as comfort.

The stage loves a dining room table. This single piece of furniture represents sustenance and communion, and domestic dramas set at the table are — pun very much intended — the bread and butter of theater.

But for all the ways family plays reveal truths, trauma and traditions, they take on greater weight as I think about them this Thanksgiving, during a pandemic demanding all of us to figure out whether we can safely see our loved ones, and if so, how.

That’s not to say that family get-togethers onstage tend to go well. Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County” is the contemporary standard-bearer for all hostile family dramas. We join the Westons, a trash fire of a family racked with bitterness, guilt and resentment, in their Oklahoma home on the occasion of the absence, then death, of the patriarch, Beverly Weston.

Fed up with the family’s cruelty, Ivy, the middle daughter, declares to her elder sister: “I can’t perpetuate these myths of family or sisterhood anymore. We’re all just people, some of us accidentally connected by genetics, a random selection of cells. Nothing more.”

Not exactly an episode of “Full House.” But she (and the play) are right that the myth of family often wilts before the real deal. The Westons twist their intimate knowledge of one another to degrade, intimidate and manipulate. Be careful what you’re wishing for this holiday season: “August: Osage County” shows us that a family around a dinner table can be a battlefield — but here the wounds are personal.

The same is true of Stephen Karam’s fantastically brutal (and simply fantastic) “The Humans,” in which the Blake family, natives of Scranton, Pa., convene at the Manhattan duplex apartment of their younger daughter Brigid and her boyfriend Richard. Erik, Brigid’s father, is remote, supposedly because he hasn’t been sleeping well, and her mother, Deirdre, tries to connect with her daughters but is often dismissed. Amy, the older daughter, is ill. And Momo, Erik’s aged mother, is barely lucid.

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TREVOR NUNN TO DIRECT LISA DWAN IN BECKETT’S HAPPY DAYS ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/18; Photo: Astonishing … Lisa Dwan in No’s Knife at the Old Vic in 2016. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian.)

Dwan will play Winnie in a 60th-anniversary revival of the play at Riverside Studios in London

It is, perhaps, the perfect play for lockdown, as the heroine fills the hours between “the bell for waking and the bell for sleep” with despair, defiance and memories of better times. The indomitable Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days is now to be portrayed by Lisa Dwan in a 60th-anniversary revival directed by Sir Trevor Nunn at Riverside Studios in London next year.

Despite its clear resonance with the pandemic, which has kept so many isolated at home, Nunn said his and Dwan’s plans for Happy Days predate the coronavirus outbreak. The pair first discussed it before collaborating on a triple bill of short Beckett plays at Jermyn Street theatre, staged in early 2020, for which Dwan lent her haunting voice to Eh Joe.

Nunn said the timing is apposite because the lockdown has left many of us looking back at our lives. “We have been remembering all sorts of happy times in our lives and that phrase [Happy Days] comes up always. We say it with delight and with sadness and with regret. Beckett’s title is very carefully chosen to include all of those ideas.” The great Irish playwright continually explored endurance, Nunn said, and his dramas probe “how we seek for meaning”.

Armed with a toothbrush, a revolver and a parasol, immersed in a mound of earth with her partner Willie behind her, Winnie is one of Beckett’s greatest creations. Ruth White originated the role in New York in 1961 and recent Winnies in the UK have included Juliet Stevenson at London’s Young Vic and Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

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ARE STREAMED PLAYS THEATER OR TV? UNIONS SETTLE A DISPUTE ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/19; Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA’s agreement clears the way for more entertainment during the pandemic winter; via Pam Green.)

Two major entertainment industry unions have settled an internecine dispute over streaming theater, reaching an agreement that should make it easier for professional theaters around the country to film plays and musicals for broadcast during the coronavirus pandemic.

The dispute centered on a distinctly pandemic-era question: As theaters that have been shut down by the outbreak try to stream productions, should their contracts fall to the union that represents people who work in theater, or the one that represents film and television workers?

After a sometimes-bitter dispute, the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents 51,000 stage actors and state managers, and SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 people who work primarily in film and television, announced the agreement Thursday evening.

“This is a great day,” Kate Shindle, the Equity president, said in an interview Thursday. “This gives people who make theater the ability to innovate in ways that they need in order to survive.”

Shindle said she was hopeful that the agreement will make it possible for theaters to stream more work for the duration of the pandemic. “We want this work to happen,” she said.

Under the agreement, which is tentatively scheduled to last until Dec. 31, 2021, the two unions agreed that Equity will cover work recorded for digital distribution that replaces, or supplements, a live audience.

There are many restrictions — the Equity-covered work is supposed to be distributed to ticketholders or subscribers, and not broadcast to the general public. The audience, over the course of the streaming run, must not exceed twice the theater’s seating capacity over that time period, or three times the capacity for theaters with fewer than 350 seats.

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DOLLY PARTON HELPED FUND MODERNA’S VACCINE. IT BEGAN WITH A CAR CRASH AND AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP. ·

(Timothy Bella’s article appeared in The Washington Post, 11/18; Photo: Today.com; via the Drudge Report.)

As Dolly Parton tells it, her first-ever car accident in October 2013 was minor, but left her bruised and sore enough to seek medical advice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

That’s where she met Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery. Abumrad knew next to nothing about the beloved megastar with big, blond hair, but he soon befriended her because he deeply enjoyed their talks about current events and science.

Their bond of nearly seven years received worldwide attention Tuesday after it was revealed that Parton’s $1 million donation to Vanderbilt for coronavirus research, made in honor of Abumrad, partially funded the biotechnology firm Moderna’s experimental vaccine, which a preliminary analysis released this week foundis nearly 95 percent effective at preventing the illness.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Abumrad recalled how Parton’s curiosity about Vanderbilt’s coronavirus research led to a gift that helped fund the vaccine that could be one of two available in the United States on a limited basis by the end of the year.

Among the agencies and universities listed as funding sources for the Moderna vaccine was “the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund,” which left some on social media joking about singing the refrain of her hit “Jolene” replaced with the word “vaccine.”The doctor said he was elated over his friend’s contribution to the early stages of a vaccine that eventually received nearly $1 billion in federal funding.

“Her work made it possible to expedite the science behind the testing,” Abumrad, 76, said on Tuesday night. “Without a doubt in my mind, her funding made the research toward the vaccine go 10 times faster than it would be without it.”

Speaking to NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday, Parton, 74, expressed gratitude to those working tirelessly for a vaccine to help stop a pandemic that has killed at least 247,000 people in the United States.

“I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the covid fund, I just wanted it to do good,” she said. “Evidently, it is. Let’s just hope we find a cure real soon.”

Their friendship may seem unlikely, bonding a Lebanese-born physician and a cultural tour de force who ended up building an amusement park graced with her own name. But after the car crash, the pair found out they were both poor, mountain kids trying to get by, though they were raised more than 6,000 miles apart. Abumrad said Parton became someone he could confide in.

“Our homes were almost identical where we grew up,” Abumrad told The Post.

The physician’s son, Jad Abumrad, at first didn’t believe his father whenever he talked about his friend Dolly. Even when the physician’s phone rang and the name that came up was “Dolly Parton,” he remained skeptical of his stoic father’s claim of having the famous friend.

“It’s not that I thought he was lying, but it’s just such an odd thing,” said Jad, 47, in a text message. “He’s not the type of guy who hangs out with the Dolly Partons of the world.”

The true test came when Jad, host of the nationally syndicated “Radiolab,” wanted to interview Parton for the show and asked his father for an introduction. By the time the father and son walked into Parton’s headquarters in downtown Nashville, Jad’s doubts dissolved.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Well, okay, he actually DOES know Dolly,'” Jad recalled. That first meeting sparked the 2019 series, “Dolly Parton’s America,” a nine-part special exploring her impact on music and the world, and the singer’s ability to bridge society’s deepest divides.

When Parton asked Naji Abumrad toward the beginning of the year about coronavirus, she wanted to learn as much as she could about what was being done to study the virus, the physician said. Abumrad told her about “exciting developments” made on early vaccine research by a team at Vanderbilt led by Mark Denison, a physician and professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology.

Shortly thereafter, with the nation in the first weeks of lockdown, Parton wanted to do her part to help. She announced her seven-figure gift for coronavirus research on April 1, making the donation in honor of Abumrad – “My longtime friend.”

“Honestly, I never had to ask for her support for the research,” said Abumrad, calling his friend “the kindest and most philanthropic human being” he’s ever known. “She’s the one who suggested it.”

Though the promising news surrounding the Moderna vaccine was far from an individual achievement, Denison told the New York Times that Parton’s $1 million donation went a long way toward funding the “critical” early stages of research and testing.

“Her money helped us develop the test that we used to first show that the Moderna vaccine was giving people a good immune response that might protect them,” Denison said.

The major reaction this week to Parton’s role in the vaccine has left the two friends overwhelmed, said Abumrad, but it has also reaffirmed his belief in science’s role to help as many people as possible.

Now a firm believer in his father’s friendship with Parton, Jad Abumrad said he’s probably not the only one thankful for the “weird luck” that brought them together years ago.

“He’s spent his entire life dedicated to helping people. And she’s famously the same,” he said. “Every day, their partnership makes a little more sense to me.”

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FOR GERMANY’S THEATERS, A RELUCTANT INTERMISSION ·

(A. J. Goldman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/12; Photo: Credit…Sandra Then; via Pam Green.)

MUNICH — Before a second nationwide lockdown went into effect in early November, Germany’s theaters — and their audiences — had been adjusting to measures that allowed a semblance of normal cultural life in the midst of the pandemic. Mandatory masks, spread-out seating plans and pragmatic program changes all ensured that the country’s playhouses were operating safely.

But after two months of performing under these changed circumstances, theaters seemed taken aback when, on Oct. 28, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced they would have to close again. This time around, they have not gone gently.

Officially, the second lockdown will last only a month, but few companies expect to return to the stage in early December. Faced with the threat of indefinite closure, they have reacted with refreshing chutzpah, challenging politicians to consider live performance as an essential service rather than a leisure activity.

“There is no danger of infection if you maintain the minimum distance of six feet and properly ventilate the auditorium,” said an open letter to lawmakers signed by arts administrators in the state of Bavaria. “So far, not a single case of infection has been proved to come from a theater visit,” the letter added.

I’ve been impressed with the precautions that playhouses have taken, although I’d be lying if I said that my much-curtailed theatergoing has not been attended by anxiety every step of the way, from riding the subway and avoiding audience members in the lobby to carefully filing out of the theater after the show.

Sometimes, that sense of unease was magnified when a production hardly seemed to justify the risk, like Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson’s staging of “The Oresteia” at the Volksbühne in Berlin. The show, scheduled to return when the lockdown is lifted, makes for a loud and cluttered evening that has surprisingly little to do with Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy.

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PLAY WITH THE FORMAT: HOW THEATRE SHOWS ARE DISPENSING WITH THE STAGE ·

(Natasha Tripney’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/7.)

Undeterred by Covid, theatre-makers are beaming innovative plays into people’s homes via Zoom, WhatsApp and Minecraft

Since mid-March, theatre-makers have been faced with a dilemma: how do you continue to make art when conventional theatre, the performing of stories to audiences in dark rooms, is not pandemic-compatible? Some were quick to embrace the shift to digital, while others resisted. A few suggested that maybe it was best to just stop making theatre at all for the time being, until things returned to normal. This, though, did not take into account the fact that artists still need to eat, and that retraining as a coder isn’t an option for many, despite what Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives might believe.

New work started to appear. In the beginning there were a lot of monologues; short, self-filmed pieces in the main. Then, as video-conferencing became the primary tool for talking to colleagues and friends, the Zoom play took off. US playwright Richard Nelson wrote a series of new pieces for his pre-existing characters, the Apple family, with the siblings sharing snippets of their Covid-19 existence; while the innovative Belarus Free Theatre – whose politically exiled co-founders are a step ahead of most, having been creating work remotely for years – produced an ambitious live Zoom adaptation of the Russian novel A School for Fools, featuring props from their apartments, drone footage and accidental cat cameos.

However, as it became apparent that conventional performance would not be possible for some time to come, it turned out that Zoom plays were just the beginning. Theatre-makers have had to become more inventive, to explore different platforms and new forms of storytelling. Over the past months, we have seen audio theatre, video theatre, phone theatre, WhatsApp theatre and even, in the case of recent Derry performance Playcraft Live, Minecraft theatre.

tration: Phil Hackett

Terry O’Donovan and Daphna Attias’s theatre company Dante or Die repurposed its site-specific 2018 Edinburgh fringe show, User Not Found, as an “immersive video podcast”. Designed to be experienced on your phone and listened to via headphones, the new version uses a mix of dreamy soundscape and intimate narration to tell a story about grief and our digital afterlife. Making work in this way has the capacity to reach more people. While the live version of the production, performed in a cafe, was seen by a maximum of 50 people a night, the video podcast has been experienced by more than 5,500.

But is it theatre? For Attias, this moment has created “an opportunity to start telling stories in new ways using the digital”. It is possible, she says, for a work “to be theatre and an installation and a piece of art. The mainstream theatre sector has been quite rigid for a long time but the fringes have always been playing around with form, experimenting with audio, digital, live art, journeys that don’t conform to what ‘theatre’ is for many people.” One person watching User Not Found reported the impulse to pick up her phone and comfort it during one particularly emotive moment. “Some friends pressed ‘play’ at the same time as each other and enjoyed feeling like they were connected,” says Attias.

Phones are also central to the French director Samuel Sené’s show C-o-n-t-a-c-t, already something of an international hit, performed at locations around London and Europe. Audience members download an app that allows them to listen in, via headphones, on a group of actors as they move through the city’s streets, telling a story about urban isolation and guardian angels. It feels like digital eavesdropping: you can hear the performers’ every breath and thought, while watching from a safe distance.

Visitors, the new audio experience by Darkfield’s Glen Neath and David Rosenberg, is designed for two people to experience together in their own home. Neath and Rosenberg have been experimenting with making work outside auditoriums for 25 years, most recently via their often terrifying shipping container experiences Flight and Séance, 15-minute events that use a mix of binaural sound and blanketing darkness to capture the terror of being on a plane on the verge of crashing, or the sense of being trapped in close quarters with a malevolent spirit. This made them better placed than most to adapt.

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BRENDAN A. BRADLEY: HOW TO CUSTOMIZE #FUTURESTAGES VR THEATER FOR YOUR SHOW ·

Welcome to the future–#FutureStages. Above creator/guru, Brendan A. Bradley.  Watch his introductory video below.

On 10/30, he spoke to Bob Ost, executive director of Theater Resources Unlimitedabout free, cutting-edge tools to help navigate creatively during the pandemic and beyond, at Tru’s Friday community gathering. Visit truonline.org .

From Bob: Think Outside the (Black) Box: New Virtual Platforms. Integrate emerging technologies in live performance, supporting the next generation of multi-disciplinary storytellers. Learn about streaming tools for live performance, including building a customizable virtual theater.

I can’t go on.  I will go on. 

Grab all the assets from brendanAbradley.com/futurestages and follow along! CLICK FOR SHORTCUTS TO TOPICS: — 00:00 – Pre-roll chat 00:29 – Overview of The Future Stages 02:47 – Using OBS to Livestream 03:38 – Overview of Mozilla HUBS Scenes 04:13 – Virtual Walkthrough of Theater (Sample Set Up) 04:32 – Explanation of the Lobby View 05:42 – Controls to navigate Mozilla Hubs 07:22 – Interactive features of Mozilla Hubs 10:07 – STEP ONE: Go to brendanAbradley.com/futurestages 10:51 – STEP TWO: Click to Remix the template in Mozilla SPOKE 12:40 – Don’t worry about the error message for Vimeo 14:12 – STEP THREE: Double Click on Top Right Assets to Add Your URLs 15:31 – STEP FOUR: Replace Video Backdrop with your Livestream Link (Twitch, YouTube, etc) 16:46 – STEP FIVE: Create Your Own Show Art 21:26 – STEP SIX: Replace Show Art with Links to your Show Art 23:29 – STEP SEVEN: Double Click on Lobby View 23:37 – STEP EIGHT: Publish your Customized Theater 26:51 – STEP NINE: Create a Room for each Performance 27:38 – STEP TEN: Double Check it is set up the way you like 28:03 – STEP ELEVEN: Use OBS to broadcast live on stage 29:45 – READY TO PERFORM! 30:00 – PAUSE HERE TO HAVE A SENSE OF WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE (Disrupted by my live-streaming the tutorial) 31:12 – Wrap up and answer questions

VSEVOLOD MEYERHOLD: THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST DIRECTOR EXECUTED BY STALIN ·

(Valeria Paikova’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 10/28; Photo: Russia Beyond the Headlines.)

Vsevolod Meyerhold was a personality of great contradictions, and one of the movers and shakers in 20th century theater. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he influenced the art of performance as much as Fyodor Dostoevsky influenced the world of literature.

Six O’clock in the morning had never looked so bad as on June 20, 1939, when acclaimed Russian theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold received a knock on his door. The 65-year-old artist looked at his wife, actress Zinaida Reich, in bewilderment. They didn’t expect any surprise guests at this time of day. Meyerhold opened the door and let three people in. They presented the director with a search warrant and an order for his arrest. It was a done deal.

However, all of this could have been resolved in a different way, had Meyerhold listened to his friend Konstantin Stanislavsky’s most successful student, Mikhail Chekhov. The nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov didn’t accept the Bolshevik revolution, was allergic to the communist regime and fled to the west. In his memoirs, he recalled his meeting with Meyerhold in Berlin in 1930. 

“I tried to convey my feelings to him, or rather my premonitions, about his terrible end, if he went back to the Soviet Union,” Chekhov said. “From my gymnasium years, I’ve carried a revolution in my soul and always in its extreme, radical forms. I know you are right and my end will be the one you say. But I will return to the Soviet Union. Why? – Out of sheer honesty,” Meyerhold told Chekhov.

Meyerhold made his life’s work in the arts as an actor, director, teacher and a maverick reformer. He was a complex human being, not easily reduced to a footnote of theater chitchat. According to Sergei Eisenstein (the genius director behind ‘Battleship Potemkin’), Meyerhold was in some ways a better actor than Charlie Chaplin.

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