Subscribe

Main Stage West, other local theaters find creative alternatives to in-person performance

We all know William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage.” But what would the Bard say now, with theaters closed, plays canceled or postponed and everyone worried about the spread of the coronavirus?

Well, he might say, “Get thee to the internet.”

With theaters closed and production schedules on hold, Sonoma County’s theater folk are forced to be alone, like the rest of us, but they’re not willing to go dark, entirely. To adapt and connect with audiences, they’re going online and on the air with both new small-scale performances and previously recorded shows from the past.

“It’s a tough time for us all - actors gotta act, singers gotta sing and dancers gotta dance - and we need an audience with whom to share our stories,” said Steven Martin, artistic director of the Raven Players in Healdsburg.

“The arts are critical in times of uncertainty and volatility,” he said. “It is one of those things that can keep us connected as a community, even when we are forced to be separated physically.”

The company pushed the opening of its production of “Mamma Mia!” from April 18 to June 19, if large gatherings are allowed by then, and still hopes to put on its annual summer Shakespeare festival from July 16 through Aug. 1.

“In the meantime, we are hosting a ‘Virtual Variety Show’ on our social media outlets and inviting everyone to participate,” Martin said.

“It‘s simple and fun - people can make a one-minute video doing a bit of a song, a monologue, a dance, a joke, a magic trick, anything that they like. I’m hoping a ton of folks will participate.”

Participants can post their videos on facebook.com/RavenPerformingArtsTheater or instagram.com/raventheaterorg. They can also email videos to Martin at steven.d.m@raventheater.org.

For one of their recently canceled productions, “The Germans Upstairs,” the Raven Players might even go an old school route - they hope to present the play about two German officers billeted at the home of a Jewish family in 1940s Paris as a radio play, possibly in May.

“We are also pursuing the idea of an original six-part radio series called ‘The Sad Dads Gang’ by our literary manager, Tony Sciullo, and possibly a radio reading of ‘Macbeth’ and/or ‘King Lear.’ We will do whatever we can to make live theater available in some form while we navigate these murky waters,” Martin said.

Online plays

Main Stage West in Sebastopol is reaching into its archives to stay active while the theater remains dark during the shelter-in-place order.

Theater fans can connect online to a video recording of the company’s 2016 production of the musical “Hope,” written by nationally known singer, songwriter and activist Si Kahn and including 15 of his songs. The play tells the story of the author’s European Jewish family, which emigrated to the United States in the 19th century.

The video is presented in two acts, with the first act available at https://bit.ly/2JwcJHN and the second at https://bit.ly/3dOK0vX. The password for both is sikahn36.

The production features some of Sonoma County’s most popular and enduring theater talents, with Elizabeth Craven directing a cast that includes Mary Gannon-Graham, Jim Peterson, Alia Beeton, Sharia Pierce, John Craven, Tim Sarter, Roxanne Oliva and Jeremy Gorman.

At the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square district, plans are under way to go online with a video of its March production of “Sweeney Todd,” which was forced to close after its first week when the public was ordered to stay home.

“We are finishing up the editing of ‘Sweeney Todd’ for streaming soon and we’re waiting on (copyright holders’) permissions for other shows at this point,” said Jared Sakren, the theater’s producing artistic director. “We have canceled the remainder of our season through June, save for some online classes, streaming of recorded productions and any other way we can stay in touch with our community, patrons and donors.”

Check for updates at 6thstreetplayhouse.com.

Youth theater, Zoom

Argo Thompson, artistic director at the Left Edge Theatre and Young Actors Studio at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center, has multiple projects in the works.

“Our youth program is rehearsing a play called ‘Alice @ Wonderland’ via Zoom (a remote conferencing service). The play is scheduled to open in mid-May, but if we are still under shelter-in-place orders, we will do the show live over Zoom, free of charge,” Thompson said.

Going online and having Zoom as a tool has spurred Thompson to play other initiatives, such as live online gatherings over Zoom featuring company members and artists performing improv, music and stand-up comedy; new plays to be read or performed online and classes or online gatherings for adults on playwriting, play reading, acting and improv.

“These programs will be added to our websites as they become available,” he said. “We are negotiating with Actors Equity, licensing companies and playwrights to offer our archive of past shows on Pay-per-view.”

Shows slated for streaming include local writer David Templeton’s “Drumming with Anubis,” performed last year by Left Edge, and “A Steady Rain” from 2016, as well as the theater’s showcase for next season.

For more information, visit leftedgetheatre.com.

The Transcendence Theatre Company, known for its “Broadway Under the Stars” series at Jack London State Historic Park, has just launched its first online EDU Learn@Home Curriculum in response to school closures. It’s an English-language development, arts-integrated program for students in first through fifth grades. This was originally an in-class curriculum taught through the company’s Transcendence Teaching Artists program and now converted into an at-home educational resource, offered locally and nationwide for free. Go online to transcendencetheatre.org/learn@home.

Looking forward

Not every local theater company has had to cancel or postpone productions so far, although the future remains uncertain.

“We are fortunate not to have any upcoming play disrupted,” said Frances Werner of the Pegasus Theater Company, which serves the lower Russian River area. “We’re scheduling auditions in late June for a September performance of Tapas, our annual new short play festival, and are hoping that all will be well by then.” Check for updates at pegasustheater.com

The Imaginists theater collective in Santa Rosa’s A Street arts district is also looking forward to summer for its annual bilingual “The Art is Medicine Show,” which tours local parks with free performances. In the meantime, the company is exploring other options, which you can see at theimaginists.org.

“We cannot make theater as usual,” said Amy Pinto, the company’s artistic director. “Our immediate reaction, to lean into the strangeness of isolation, is that we’re creating a stop-motion series with iPhone voice-overs with actors from across the country. It will be coming to YouTube soon. We’re in the process of developing other new responses for young people, our community and artists in our area.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette