Who: Anna Deavere Smith, Michael Urie, Michael Benjamin Washington, Arthur A. Gianelli, more
What: Live online conversations on Wednesdays and virtual lunch discussions on Fridays
Where: Signature Theatre Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Zoom
When: Wednesdays at 5:00 (advance RSVP required for Zoom link), Fridays at noon, free
Why: With arts venues dark, the Signature Theatre is hosting a series of livestreamed events during the pandemic. On Wednesdays at 5:00, SigSpace Summits features a pair of experts discussing life in the age of coronavirus; the program got under way May 6 with two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg discussing art and mindfulness and continues May 13 with Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith — who played a hospital administrator on Nurse Jackie — talking about public health matters with Mount Sinai Morningside president Arthur A. Gianelli; advance RSVP is required for the Zoom link if you are interested in asking questions. Friday Arts Lunches kicked off April 17 with director Saheem Ali and Lupita Nyong'o, followed by members of the cast of Octet on April 24, Francis Jue with David Henry Hwang on May 1, and Crystal Dickinson, Brandon Dirden, and Jason Dirden on May 8. For the May 15 edition, the inimitable Michael Urie (Angels in America) will interview Michael Benjamin Washington, who starred in Smith’s Fires in the Mirror this past fall at the Signature. “Since our lives are currently upended by isolation, we are eager to get a head start on SigSpace by reimagining how to connect with our artists and audiences online,” Signature artistic director Paige Evans said in a statement. “Until we can interact again in our beloved physical space, come interact with us in our virtual space – as we navigate this difficult moment in history together as a community. Once we can gather again in person, we’ll be thrilled for SigSpace to activate our lobby in unique ways for the Signature family while also giving new artists and communities a home with us.” You can catch all the previous shows here.
Who: Red Bull Theater company
What: Conversation about William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, live online unrehearsed reading of play
Where: Red Bull Theater website and Facebook Live
When: Monday, May 11 and 18, free (donations accepted), 7:30
Why: No other New York City theater company has taken advantage of livestreaming during the pandemic shutdown like Red Bull has. The troupe, which specializes in Elizabethan and Jacobean comedy and tragedy, has been hosting events on its online sites every Monday night at 7:30, alternating between RemarkaBULL Podversations, in which actors discuss famous speeches, and live, unrehearsed Zoom readings with the original casts of previous Red Bull productions. On April 13, Michael Urie took on the “Queen Mab” speech from Romeo & Juliet, followed April 27 by Elizabeth Marvel tackling Mark Antony’s “Cry Havoc” monologue from Julius Caesar. Meanwhile, the company held live reunion readings of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore on April 20 and Ford, Thomas Dekker, and William Rowley’s The Witch of Edmonton on May 4. (While the podversations can still be viewed on the website, the readings are available only through the Friday of that week.)
Red Bull now turns its attention to the Bard’s Coriolanus, which it staged in the fall of 2016 at the Barrow Street Theatre in a dynamic production set during the Occupy movement that I wrote was transported to “up-to-the-minute contemporary times in a fast and furious immersive adaptation bursting with passion and energy.” On May 11 at 7:30, the podversation “There Is a World Elsewhere” delves into two speeches from the play, with Dion Johnstone, who starred as Cauis Martius, and Lisa Harrow, who played Volumnia, in conversation with Red Bull associate producer Nathan Winkelstein. And nearly the entire original cast will be back on May 18 for a live, unrehearsed reading, with Matthew Amendt as Tullus Aufidius, Zachary Fine as Titus Lartius, Rebecca S’Manga Frank as Virgilia, Harrow as Volumnia, Merritt Janson as Brutus, Johnstone as Cauis Martius, Aaron Krohn as General Cominius, Patrick Page as Menenius Agrippa, Olivia Reis as Young Martius, Lily Santiago as Valeria, Stephen Spinella as Sicinius, and Edward O’Blenis in multiple small roles, along with composer Brandon Wolcott, all performing from wherever they are sheltering in place. Both events are free, but donations are accepted. Up next will be Zoom reunion readings of Red Bull’s 2005-6 version of Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy on June 1 and Jeffrey Hatcher’s fab 2017 adaptation of Gogol’s The Government Inspector on June 15.
Who: More than fifty Broadway performers
What: Mother’s Day benefit for the Broadway Cares COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund
When: Sunday, May 10, free (donation suggested), 3:00
Why: Broadway tickets are a popular Mother’s Day gift from children. This year, there is currently no Broadway, and most Americans will not be able to visit their mothers because of the coronavirus shutdown. So Broadway.com has teamed with Broadway Cares for a holiday spectacular, presenting Broadway Does Mother’s Day, a one-time-only livestreamed event featuring more than fifty Broadway stars (and their children and mothers) in a Sunday matinee of comedy sketches, musical numbers, and surprises. The celebration will include performances from the casts of such shows as Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Beetlejuice, Chicago, Come from Away, Company, Dear Evan Hansen, Diana, Girl from the North Country, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jagged Little Pill, Mean Girls, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sing Street, and Moulin Rouge! All proceeds go to the Broadway Cares COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund, which “helps entertainment professionals meet coronavirus-related expenses and other challenges brought about by the evolving pandemic” and are part of a matching program. Below are the announced participants in this holiday extravaganza.
Jill Abramowitz • Annaleigh Ashford • Kate Baldwin • Jenni Barber • Laura & Linda Benanti • Denée Benton • Betty Buckley • Liz Callaway • Carolee Carmello • Miguel Cervantes • Linda Cho • Victoria Clark • Jenn Colella • Chuck, Eddie & Lilli Cooper • Lea DeLaria • Claybourne Elder • Eden Espinosa • Beanie Feldstein • Harvey Fierstein • Victor Garber • Leah C. Gardiner • Molly Griggs • Ann Harada • Jennifer Holliday • Robyn Hurder • James Monroe Iglehart • Sheryl Kaller • Ryan Kasprzak • Judy Kaye • Celia Keenan-Bolger • Kylie Kuioka • LaChanze • Raymond J. Lee • Lesli Margherita • Ellyn Marie Marsh • Michael McElroy • Alexis Michelle • Bonnie Milligan • Brian Stokes Mitchell • Anisha Nagarajan • Manu Narayan • Bernadette Peters • Greg Anthony Rassen • Amanda Spooner • Jason "SweetTooth" Williams • NaTasha Yvette Williams • Vanessa Williams • Betsy Wolfe • Shahadi Wright Joseph
Who: Chorus Productions
What: Live online escape room challenge
Where: Zoom (link emailed to ticket holders at 9:45)
When: Saturday nights at 10:00, $10 (tickets available here)
Why: While sheltering in place, exiled to our rooms, all of us could use a little escape. The internet has become the go-to diversion for live entertainment, with Zoom, Facebook Watch, and Instagram Live concerts, plays, dance, interviews, art tours, and more. New York City-based theater company Chorus Productions, which specializes in immersive presentations, has come up with a unique approach to escape rooms, where friends and strangers have to come together in order to solve a mystery that takes them through different physical spaces. On Saturday nights at 10:00, you can experience Eschaton, a sixty-minute Zoom journey through a virtual nightclub that, as the game’s name implies, could lead to the end of the world if you don’t figure out the puzzle; you’ll need your cell phone in addition to your desktop computer. Each room features dancers, DJs, and others (including pole dancer Alethea Austin, burlesque performer Lilin, and magician Greg Dubin) who offer clues on how to continue your adventure and eventually save the planet from destruction. The show is still in its early stages, so there might be some technical glitches here and there, but it is evolving every week. Tickets are only $10, but there are very limited spots available. Good luck!
“Why does catastrophe turn me on so much?” asks one of the characters in the Cherry Artists’ Collective’s Felt Sad, Posted a Frog (and other streams of global quarantine). The new play, which premiered last weekend and continues May 7–9, was created specifically for these difficult times; it consists of six interwoven tales related to the coronavirus pandemic, written by playwrights from around the world and performed by actors in their homes, where they are sheltering in place.
I wouldn’t say that catastrophe turns me on; the Covid-19 crisis has been a rocky rollercoaster ride and will be for quite some time to come, eliciting an ever-changing onslaught of emotional (and physical) upheaval. For the first several weeks following the March 12 shutdown, I was in a quandary. As someone who has been covering art and culture in New York City since May 2001, I didn’t know what to do with myself, with no plays, art exhibitions, concerts, films, dance programs, food festivals, or book launches to attend and write about. I’ve always focused on events that require people to get off their couches and leave their residence, and now we were all stuck inside. While Netflix bingeing can serve its purpose, it’s not a replacement for live entertainment.
My last post prior to the shutdown was, ironically enough, a March 11 review of a stirring production of Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die at Second Stage. For the next month, I wrote only a few pieces about public sculpture; I usually post two or three times a day, but I didn’t have anything to cover while creators were dealing with the shuttering of their outlets. Part of me reveled in the newfound freedom I had, even though I was trapped at home, but I could also feel my motivation fading away. And then came Zoom (and Instagram Live and Facebook Watch Parties) and a whole new approach to livestreaming — which brings us back to the Ithaca, NY–based Cherry.
I watched a seven-minute prerecorded short film about a Zoom meeting. I checked out new dance performances, unfiltered celebrity interviews. I saw a live fifteen-minute Zoom opera about a Zoom meeting. Prior to the pandemic, I was obsessed with FOMO, a fear of missing out on a cool event when I was already at a different cool event. Before arts organizations started figuring out what to do during the shutdown, my life actually got a bit more peaceful and calm, if not necessarily exciting. But what was initially a trickle of livestreaming arts turned into a barrage, and the conflicts were unnerving me. Should I watch experimental theater or a conversation and viewer Q&A with a favorite artist, which were happening at the same time? I needed, craved live stimulation, watching something with other people simultaneously. And then I was invited to Felt Sad, Posted a Frog (and other streams of global quarantine), a live two-hour show about how various men and women were dealing with sheltering in place, written by six playwrights from around the world, performed by actors in their homes. I was giddy with anticipation, ready to experience live theater again, prepared to sit down at my computer and pretend that I was at the venue. Even though I could pause the show and come back to it later, I was determined to make it through the entire play without getting up to get a drink, without checking Facebook, without going to the bathroom, without answering the telephone, as if I were in my seat on the aisle and not alone in my home office. It turned out to be so much harder than I imagined.
Directors Samuel Buggeln and Beth F. Milles shift back and forth among six distinct tales. In German playwright Rebekka Kricheldorf’s Felt Sad, Posted a Frog, a man in Berlin (Godfrey L. Simmons Jr.) is keeping a video diary, making short statements about what he is going through. He keeps going to the open closet behind him, as if it might contain some answers. In Argentine film director Santiago Loza’s Buenos Aires, a recently separated older couple (Nora Susannah Berryman and Rafael Eric Brooks) deal with their sudden isolation after having been together for so long; it’s the only section that contains visual, cinematic elements involving light and color.
Romanian-American writer, poet, and journalist Saviana Stanescu’s Zoom Birthday Party gathers Oana (Helen T. Clark), a college student in New York, her brother, Radu (Joseph D’Amore), who is with their grandparents in Oești, Romania, and their mother, Lia (Elizabeth Mozer), who is taking care of a handsy elderly man in Milan; Oona’s online birthday celebration doesn’t go quite as planned. In Salvadoran playwright Jorgelina Cerritos’s After, a woman in San Salvador (Natasha Lorca Yannacañedo) worries about her family while a narrator (Jeffrey Guyton) watches over her from above. A man from WikiHow (Dean Robinson) in a small frame at the top right gives advice to a single woman (Erica Steinhagen) obsessed with dating in Iva Brdar’s brightness of the screen warming our skin, which is set in the playwright’s native Belgrade. And in National Book Award finalist Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon’s untitled segment, Jamie (Amoreena Wade), Chelle (Cynthia Henderson), and Coretta (Sylvie Yntema) are in Upstate New York, hopeful for the future.
The six sections explore a potpourri of pandemic problems, from toilet paper, essential services, cats, and misinformation to bats, race, alcohol, and salvation. Some of the vignettes are more successful than others, with the work of Simmons Jr., Yntema, and Steinhagen standing out. Noah Elman effectively handles the live video mixing and design. (Be prepared to see a lot of nostrils.)
Although I did indeed view the show straight through, uninterrupted, it was not easy. At more than two hours, it is too long; it just kept going and going, eventually making me angry, although I enjoyed it overall. But at least part of that reaction might have been more of my FOMO; throughout the play, the temptation to check my email, post something on Facebook, look for news updates about the virus, see what my family was up to, etc., was simply overwhelming. It’s not even about the quality of the production; I’ve been unable to sit through all of the National Theatre Live presentation of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, and it took me three days to finish Albert Serra’s extraordinary film Liberté. I was able to read a short story in the New Yorker by Haruki Murakami but am making ridiculously slow progress on his latest novel.
I feel like Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, whose character, photographer L. B. Jefferies, is stuck in his New York City apartment, confined to a wheelchair as he recovers from a broken leg. The antsy Jeff hangs out by the window, using binoculars to peer into the rooms across the courtyard; they used to represent different television channels, each depicting a different genre, but now they mimic a Zoom meeting screen or the endless websites that offer alternative forms of entertainment these days. We’ve trained our brains to jump from window to window, whether browser or app, with no small amount of help from clever advertising tech fiends eager for precious seconds of our attention. Jeff eventually focuses on one specific apartment, where a murder might have taken place. Now I have to figure out a way that I can do the same, concentrate on one play, dance, concert, interview, art tour, etc., at a time and not wilt under the barrage. And yes, I did post a frog.
Who: Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Oscar Isaac, Jeffrey Wright, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, Glenn Davis, Marjolaine Goldsmith, Jumaane Williams
What: Live Zoom theatrical production by Theater of War
Where: Eventbrite link sent with RSVP
When: Thursday, May 7, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: Theater of War Productions (TOWP) presents dramatic readings of plays and speeches by Sophocles, Tennessee Williams, Euripides, Conor McPherson, Aeschylus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eugene O’Neill, Frederick Douglass, and others, examining them through a contemporary sociocultural lens, focusing on such themes as addiction and substance abuse, gun violence, the prison system, natural disasters, consent, genocide, and caregiving. On May 7 at 7:00, the company, which was cofounded in 2009 by Bryan Doerries and Phyllis Kaufman, will turn its attention to the current pandemic with the Oedipus Project, a free online initiative that will feature an all-star roster of actors giving a live, dramatic reading of scenes from Sophocles’s fifth-century BCE classic, Oedipus the King. The play deals with such elements as arrogance, pride, power, guilt, and truth and was first performed during the Plague of Athens, an epidemic that killed about a third of the population. The impressive cast, who will be performing from wherever they are sheltering in place, consists of Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Oscar Isaac, Jeffrey Wright, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, Glenn Davis, and Marjolaine Goldsmith. “There are people suffering out there, dying from the hateful plague, and this is what you choose to do with your time?” Jocasta asks in Doerries’s translation; Doerries also directs the show and will facilitate a live, interactive discussion about the impact of Covid-19 on families and communities, joined by New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams. TOWP is planning other productions to help those facing loneliness, trauma, loss, and mental and physical illness during this time of isolation.
Who: Christopher Abbott, Glenn Davis, William Jackson Harper, Jessica Hecht, Marin Ireland, Raymond Lee, Alison Pill, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Thomas Sadoski, Amanda Seyfried, more
What: New online theatrical works to benefit No Kid Hungry
Where: Link supplied by the Homebound Project upon donation
When: May 6-10, 20-24, June 3-7, $10 or more, 7:00
Why: With audiences, playwrights, actors, directors, teachers, students, and most everyone else sheltering in place with theaters and schools closed, playwright Catya McMullen and director Jenna Worsham have come up with a unique program to bring works to a play-starved populace while also raising money for children in need. The Homebound Project pairs playwrights and actors in works created specifically for this time, performed from wherever everyone is hunkering down during the pandemic. From May 6 to 10, May 20 to 24, and June 3 to 7, ten short plays by ten playwrights performed by ten actors will stream for a limited time. To get the key to the virtual doorway, you have to make a minimum donation of $10 for each section; all proceeds go to the national nonprofit No Kid Hungry, which, as part of Share Our Strength, seeks to solve poverty and hunger issues around the country, and especially right now amid a terrible crisis. Worsham said in a statement, “The Homebound Project grew from a desire to support frontline organizations by doing what we artists do best: creating and gathering, in newly imagined ways. Our mission is to provide sustenance: critical provisions for those in need, an opportunity for isolated artists to collaborate, and (we hope) a way for audiences to access the communal empathy that theater provokes.”
The first ten actor/playwright combinations have been announced, and the list is beyond impressive, dealing with the theme of “home”: Christopher Abbott (James White, The Rose Tattoo)/Lucy Thurber (The Insurgents, Transfers), Glenn Davis (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow)/Ren Dara Santiago (Siblings, Something in the Balete Tree), William Jackson Harper (An Octoroon, The Good Place)/Max Posner (Sisters on the Ground, Snore), Jessica Hecht (The Assembled Parties, Fiddler on the Roof)/Sarah Ruhl (In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play; How to Transcend a Happy Marriage), Marin Ireland (On the Exhale, Ironbound)/Eliza Clark (The Metaphysics of Breakfast, Edgewise), Raymond Lee (Tokyo Fish Story, Vietgone)/Qui Nguyen (Living Dead in Denmark, Vietgone), Alison Pill (Three Tall Women, Blackbird)/C. A. Johnson (All the Natalie Portmans, Thirst), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven, The Motherfucker with the Hat)/Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Describe the Night), Thomas Sadoski (Other Desert Cities, reasons to be pretty)/Martyna Majok (Cost of Living, Ironbound), and Amanda Seyfried (Big Love, Mamma Mia!)/Catya McMullen (Everything Is Probably Going to Be Okay, A**holes in Gas Stations). Each section will be available from 7:00 pm of the first day to 7:00 pm of the last day, after which the link will be taken down. The participants for round two, which will examine “sustenance,” are Uzo Aduba/Anne Washburn, Nicholas Braun/Will Arbery, Utkarsh Ambudkar/Marco Ramirez, Betty Gilpin/Lily Houghton, Kimberly Hébert Gregory/Loy A. Webb, Hari Nef/Ngozi Anyanwu, Mary-Louise Parker/Bryna Turner, Christopher Oscar Peña/Brittany K. Allen, Zachary Quinto/Adam Bock, Taylor Schilling/Sarah DeLappe, and Babak Tafti/David Zheng; among those expected for the third segments are actors André Holland, Joshua Leonard, Ashley Park, and Will Pullen and playwrights John Guare and Daniel Talbott, so it’s hard to go wrong, especially for this cause and with donations starting at a mere ten bucks. (Feel free to give more if you can.) Rachel Sabella, director of No Kid Hungry in New York, explained, “In New York City alone, kids in need are missing nearly 850,000 school meals every day while schools are closed because of the coronavirus. We have a plan to feed kids, but the need is great, and it’s going to take all of us — actors, cafeteria staff, elected officials, everyday people — to offer the time, talent, and resources to reach them.”