In these apprehensive days of suspension, theaters, like us, are ever hopeful – hopeful that the new normal isn’t going to become the new different.
When the rug was yanked out, who expected such a situation, let alone envisioned planning for it? And after the shock and much thoughtful consideration and weary board meetings, the theater community rallied. Crystal Lake’s magnificent Raue Center for the Arts, like Aurora’s spectacular Paramount, and Waukegan’s grand Genesee Theatre postponed, rescheduled and canceled seasons of shows, concerts and much anticipated events.
Some companies forged ahead. WSR, the resident Raue company, rescheduled its production of "Native Gardens" (featuring Cary actress Shannon Mayhall and Crystal Lake director Michele Vazquez) for January. Elgin director Don Haefliger announced to the cast of "The Government Inspector" that there was every reasonable hope that the Independent Players production would be remounted in September. The McHenry County area charity-giving RCLPC theater company still holds every hope its season will run in July with the opening of "Don't Drink the Water." Even well-known Dole Mansion-based mind reader and magician Joe Diamond, who lost an entire year of live shows, has adapted to Zoom extravaganzas and a virtual pajama party.
Other companies had to abide by devastating decisions. Theatre 121, residents of the Woodstock Opera House, had to prematurely end its run of the musical "Matilda," and then canceled the future run of "Murder on the Orient Express." According to Wonder Lake actor Chris Plotts, rehearsals had begun via Zoom. Antioch’s PM&L also ceased ticket sales of the much anticipated "Ripcord" and "Angels in America." Both Theatre 121 and PM&L are nonprofit theater companies who will suffer severe financial woes.
Further afield in Wisconsin, favorite Door County destination theater Peninsula Players canceled its entire season, while Spring Green’s American Players hopes for a much delayed fall opening.
But for those Broadway and Chicago theater fans, virtual online and streaming productions are saving distractions. Efforts truly are being made every day to showcase theatrical entertainment, much to our appreciation.
The Broadway-based streamingmusicals.com has the 2018 Broadway production of "Emma" (120 minutes, rent for $4.99) next up with a season of other headliners and premieres planned throughout the summer. That site never closes.
Chicago’s Victory Gardens will offer "Fun Home" through May 24 (email@example.com, $20), and TimeLine Theatre will remount the story of Paul and Julia Childs in "To Master the Art," May 12 to June 7, but I caution you, that one is on its way to being sold out (TimeLine at 773-281-8463, timelinetheatre.com).
Not a full production, but equally delightful, Porchlight Music Theater continues to offer its discussion of musical theater giant Stephen Sondheim’s works, complete with performance clips and guest panelists (porchlightmusictheatre.org). And Chicago Shakespeare Theater offers a variety of free streaming videos, as well as its project called “Living Room Sonnets” (chicagoshakes.com).
Which leaves us with the two internationally known Chicago popular theaters. Goodman, after announcing all performances were suspended until further notice, offers livestreaming of its five-hour production of "2666" for free (and no, I haven’t been brave enough yet). It also put into place a new digital series called "Intermission," keeping audiences and actors united through a love of theater; included is a brilliant tribute to the late Brian Dennehy among other subjects. And in an effort to help benefit theaters, at 7 p.m. May 10, a livestreamed performance by Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin will be available for $50 per household (goodmantheatre.org).
Steppenwolf continues to broadcast interviews, the increasingly popular "Half Hour" podcast, backstage explorations, and educational workshops, as well as a virtual gala – the annual Steppenwolf soiree, “Pants Optional,” on May 9. The theater also has exclusively scheduled members-only streams of Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of "The Seagull," the radio play version of Arthur Miller’s "The American Clock," and the Tina Landau production of "In the Red and Brown Water," with performances by ensemble members John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, William Petersen and Austin Pendleton. So truly, if you ever wanted to become a Steppenwolf subscriber, now’s the time (steppenwolf.org).
With all the ongoing uncertainty, how will theaters respond? Continue? Survive? The biggest threat to all, of course, is the not knowing, but to quote playwright Tony Kushner: “The world only spins forward,” so let’s move in that direction.
• Regina Belt-Daniels has been in the theater ever since Sister Mary Justia had the wisdom to cast her as a bossy Mother Goose In a first grade production. When not in a recliner watching theatrical productions or attending Zoom meetings, she hopes soon to return to doing what she loves best: to teach, direct, act, travel with her husband, write theater reviews, and serve enthusiastically on theater boards throughout Illinois.