Going back to a (virtual) stage

Rehearsal for the Futurist Play House in about 1910

Nearly all live theater companies and groups have been idle since the world shut down for the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, like everything else, theater artists assumed they would have to postpone or cancel a production or two, but then things would slowly get back to normal.

Eight months later, many groups are still wondering when, if ever, that “normal” is coming. Restrictions on the number of people who can attend a public event are very low in most states, making the economics of a full-blown stage production difficult.

Some groups have done some online productions or readings, mostly of new plays or plays that are in the public domain. Initially, that was the only choice, since online performances are considered to be broadcasts if done live (and video recordings if captured for later distribution via YouTube), and those rights to plays that are under copyright are nearly always separate from the rights to perform a work onstage.

Now some publishers, including Dramatists Play Service, Concord Theatricals (which includes the catalogs of Samuel French, Tams-Witmark, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Andrew Lloyd Webber) and Dramatic Publishing are starting to offer one-act and full-length plays that have been written specifically for virtual performance, including the rights needed to do so. And while historically these publishers have been reluctant to work on behalf of performing groups to help negotiate additional rights to the plays they hold the staging rights to, under the circumstances they’ve become more willing to do so.

I’ve done community theater for twenty years, both as an actor and as a director. I taught theater at a community college for eight years and directed dozens of shows there. I miss working with my theater friends (and making new ones) desperately. As you can see by clicking on “Theater Work” in the top menu, I haven’t been involved with any productions since mid-2018.

With many things we’ve been deprived of during this crazy year, I’d resolved not to do most of them until I could return to the way I’d enjoyed them before, including going to bars and restaurants (not interested in going with social distancing and masks – I mean, what’s the point?). But I may need to make an exception here.

I think the challenges of putting on a virtual theatrical production could be fun. It’s not that different than the musicians who are streaming their live performances that I’ve been describing on my Music Saturday posts. With no end to the pandemic in sight, it’s probably time to start making exceptions to my rules. The show must, as they say, go on.