Armchair Excursions: In-House Nights at the Theater
Unlike the real-life Interregnum that shuttered London playhouses between 1642 and 1660, the remedy for the current halt to the spring theater season is not a simple change of venue—not when propelled by the very prospect of performers and spectators occupying the same space.
Almost as soon as the order to back off/stay inside was issued, however, the creative minds of the "city that works" began reinventing the minimal requirements of performance—actor, audience and empty space—to reflect viewing in solitude. Some theaters replicated the playgoing experience online in every detail, even to conducting post-show discussions by means of conference-call technology. Others re-imagined the entire structure of dramatic narrative to forge concepts tapping into other disciplines, while others graciously welcomed playgoers into the dressing rooms to chat with the artists.
New programs are springing up, literally, every day, so audiences are advised to check their favorite theater websites for entries announced too recently to be listed here, but in the meantime, some easy-access places to start:
FULL PRODUCTIONS ON A TIMETABLE
Teenage Dick, Theater Wit, streaming through May 3. Mike Lew's adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III directs you to pick up your ticket—um, your password—before virtual-escorting you through the lobby to your seat. Be warned that Theater Wit is limiting its house count to the actual capacity of its bricks-and-mortar facility, and that fifty percent of the sales precipitating this extended run are generated from out of town/state/country—so make those reservations now. Instructions and intel: TheaterWit.org
School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play, Goodman Theatre, streaming through April 26. If you had already bought tickets, prior to its aborted March opening, for Jocelyn Bioh's portrait of social politics at an exclusive Girls' School in Ghana, there's no admission. If you didn't, you can make a donation of $15-plus to receive a streaming password good for one viewing over the following two weeks. Instructions and intel: GoodmanTheatre.org/StreamSchoolGirls
The Happiest Place On Earth, Sideshow Theatre Company, open run. This taped performance of Philip Dawkins' solo saga of a multi-generational family in 1963 mourning the loss of their beloved patriarch and seeking solace in Walt Disney's newly-inaugurated mythical kingdom may be low-tech, but the playwright's humor and compassion have lost none of their gentle reassurance. Instructions and intel: SideshowTheatre.org/stream
The Magic Parlour Happy Hour, House Theater of Chicago, open run. Now that the swanky downtown "parlour" is no longer available for tourists to crowd around the card table for some close-up magic, Dennis Watkins takes his prestidigital props and patter to Facebook for a weekly hour-long display of legerdemain—some even utilizing audience volunteers on live-feed. Instructions and intel: Facebook.com/TheMagicParlour
The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral, The Neofuturists, open run. For three decades, the Neofuturists have delivered precision-measured medleys of short sketches selected by audience vote, so it was only a short step to presenting "thirty digital plays in sixty analog minutes" online, with each individual choosing their own order of presentation. Instructions and intel: Patreon.com/theNeofuturists
Ask Us, Black Ensemble Theater, open run. Jackie Taylor's pioneering troupe has refuted outdated assumptions governing African-American theater over the last fifty years to attract a multicultural following, and in this live-feed series, the senior artists show you what it looks like and share backstories of how they did it. Instructions and intel: Facebook.com/BlackEnsembleTheater
Half Hour: A Steppenwolf Theatre Podcast, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, open run. The 40-year-old company that made Chicago an international presence invites its fans backstage for interviews hosted by Carolyn Neff, Cliff Chamberlain, Audrey Francis and Glenn David, along with writing workshops and vintage footage of barely-recognizable alumni in their youth. Instructions and intel: Steppenwolf.org
WORDS AND PICTURES TO WATCH ANYTIME:
Out of Touch, Annoyance Theater, open run. On the eve of the city-wide lockdown, Mick Napier and a "quaranteam" of volunteers from the improv-based company sequestered themselves in the barroom-and-studios loft in the Belmont Theater District to write a show about the experience and post the results on their website. Instructions and intel: TheAnnoyance.com/lockin
The Masque of the Red Coronavirus, Black Button Eyes Productions, open run. Ed Rutherford's literary variation on Edgar Allan Poe's fable of selfish one-percenters attempting to party through the plague is recounted in "enhanced text" integrating written dialogue with video illustrations encompassing poetry, opera, puppetry and erotic dancing. Instructions and intel: BlackButtonEyes.com/masque-of-the-red-coronavirus
Intimate Apparel, Northlight Theatre, open run. Lynn Nottage's romantic tale of a lingerie seamstress and her suitors in gilded-age New York City never got the chance to open at Northlight, but is narrated on its website in a graphic novel-inspired montage combining production photos and title cards. Instructions and intel: Northlight.org/events/intimate-apparel/#gallery
Shakes@Home, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, open run. The classically-trained personnel at Navy Pier's Elizabethan outpost serves up songs, soliloquies, sonnets, scenery, seminars and a cooking lesson or two inspired by the bard's texts ("Good thou, save me a piece of marchpane"). Instructions and Intel: ChicagoShakes.com
The Trellis library at the Greenhouse is closed, but book clubs and bibliophiles can satisfy their craving for dramatic literature (and avoid the Amazon crush) with gently-used scripts from Better World Books, Book Depository or a new website currently in development providing direct access to the publishers of new Chicago playwrights.
See a full list of theatre streaming options at our Streaming Shows page.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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