More than six months into the pandemic, with no clear end in sight, two favorite forms of entertainment still remain mostly off-limits, both nationally and locally: indoor dining and theater performances. While even New York museums are cautiously opening, theaters there are still dark. But the imaginations of theater artists are not dimmed –– a panoply of streaming options has appeared across the country.
And they’ve done so in Ithaca as well, especially with summer options from the Hangar, Ithaca Shakespeare, and Cherry Arts. Locally, theaters are now preparing their fall productions, which will continue mostly online. But the Cherry Arts is taking a bold step for its 2020-21 season, with its initial show produced in a socially distanced venue in Stewart Park.
The free community event, also available online (check end links) runs September 17-26. Billed as “a wild and wooly outdoor masked comedy,” “The Fan” is a 18th-century classic by Carlo Goldoni, who also penned “The Servant of Two Masters” (remember James Corden in the National Theatre’s madcap version?). Cherry artistic director Sam Buggeln directs.
Audience members, who are welcome to bring picnics, will be seated in separate pods of one to five. Recorded video –– of dialogue, music, and goofy sounds –– complements the performers, all of whom will be wearing masks –– it’s “lip synching without lips,” Buggeln says.
Later shows in the Cherry Arts season, with its emphasis on translations of international work, include a premiere of “A Day,” co-directed by Wendy Dann and Buggeln. Written by Québecoise Gabrielle Chapdelaine (November 13-21), this work received the Canadian 2018 Gratien Gélinas prize for best new play. It features live performances from Karl Gregory, Jahmar Ortiz, Erica Steinhagen, and Sylvie Yntema. In the spring, there’s “Hotel Good Luck,” by Mexican playwright Aljandro Ricaño, directed by Buggeln (February 12-20); and “Trap Door,” by poet Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, directed by Cynthia Henderson (May 20-30), which explores Ithaca’s underground railroad and civil rights era history.
A creative mix of virtual events comes from Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts: First, the “10-Minute Play Festival” (Oct 8-10); then the collaboratively drafted “Virtual Vibrance: Making, Shaking, Breaking Performance” (October 29–31). Film and theatre students will work together producing “Off-Campus/On-Screen” (December 11–13), a series of short dramatic films exploring experiences of lockdown, economic crisis, pandemic, and protest.
And Ithaca College, which had to cancel promising spring shows, returns with a remote fall season focused on new voices, BIPOC artists and their stories, and developing student playwrights. Dates will be announced soon, with subscribers and single ticket buyers then being personally contacted. The season opens on the student-directed “IC New Play Incubator 2020,” featuring the work of seven undergraduate and alumni writers. Guest judge is LatinX writer Caridad Svich.
The season continues with Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters”; Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ “Light in the Piazza”; Aaliyah Warrington’s “Gather Ye Children”; and Nick Malakhow’s “Off the Palisades Parkway”; original dances in “Shifting Spaces”; and “Moments: An Evening of the Work of Douglas Lyons.”
Opera Ithaca keeps a sense of humor with its first online offering, a 55-minute newly filmed version of Giocomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” in Italian with English subtitles, scheduled for early October. The comic one-act premiered in the midst of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, and this version, set in the present, reveals “just what happens when opera's favorite dysfunctional family goes into quarantine.”
The innovative film, produced by Opera Ithaca director Ben Robinson and David Kossack of PhotoSynthesis, will stream first through Cinemapolis for two weeks and for several more on the opera website.
In the spring, Opera Ithaca features two shows, the first, a double food-themed bill laced with comedy: Lee Hoiby’s “Bon Appétit” (about Julia Child’s French Chef) and Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Next, “Inside the Creative Process” reveals how a new opera, “We Wear the Sea like a Coat,” takes shape –– showcasing composer Sally Lamb McCune and librettists Rachel Lampert and Yvonne Gray.
Now in its 29th year, the Kitchen Theatre Company is forging a new path under its interim producing artistic director, David Winitsky. The anniversary season, “The Journey to 30” –– to be announced on Friday, October 2 –– will open in January with a full menu of virtual, hybrid, and in-person events celebrating the theatre’s past and future.
Smaller theater companies are already planning fall online productions. Walking on Water (WOW), emphasizing new musicals and their artists, will present “A Virtual Cabaret,” directed by founder/artistic director Priscilla Hummel –– with excerpts from past shows, some surprises from the present, and a hint of the future (November 20-21).
“Humans first, creators second’ is the motto of Clockmaker Arts, a “international storytelling” company of young local artists that debuted in August. The group is dedicated to producing “original creative content to help connect, heal, and transform the world.” Looking ahead to winter, “What If, in a Snowstorm…” premieres December 12 and runs live for a week on YouTube. It’s by artistic director Elizabeth Seldin, who will also be partnering this year with GIAC, helping kids write, compose and choreograph their own original show.
Running to Places children’s live theatre is on hold, or “in hibernation,” says founder and artistic director Joey Steinhagen. This summer, free online workshops were given –– R2P@home providing kids’ performance classes and R2PUnplugged offering deep-dive discussions into works that for content or licensing can’t be produced by R2P, shows like “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” and “Dear Evan Hanson.” The company looks forward to a time when it’s safe to re-open in person, as, Steinhagen says, young people connecting is as important as the shows themselves.
Further afield, Cortland Repertory Theatre has cancelled its fall season and hopes for a spring re-opening; like most theatres, it’s actively fundraising. And Syracuse Stage will be announcing its 48th season of six productions, available through video on demand, within the next week or so.
Re-imagining and producing theater now is nothing short of miraculous –– considering the financial losses, furloughed employees, complicated rights negotiations, technical challenges of new modes of delivery, and rehearsing across time zones. One positive outcome of the pandemic, though, has been the fresh collaboration of artists in different mediums. Theatre folk have proven themselves markedly resilient and flexible –– and supporting audiences can respond in kind: be sure to re-check production dates and times!
For tickets and final dates, check company websites:
thecherry.org •https://pma.cornell.edu/ • https://www.ithaca.edu/theatre-season • operaithaca.org •www.kitchentheatre.org •https://www.walkingonwaterproductions.org/ • https://www.clockmakerarts.com/ •http://www.runningtoplaces.org/ •www.cortlandrep.org • syracusestage.org
Barbara Adams, a regional theatre and arts writer, teaches writing at Ithaca College.