Mama Mia, is theater going to survive 2020?
Theaters across the country are doing their best to modify their programming during the pandemic. Locally, Kings Players instituted a readers’ theater that can be accessed on their website. A theater company related to them, Golden Chain Theater in Oakhurst, is doing live performances through Facebook.
In Hollywood, where a wonderful dotting of small theaters had thrived in the last 15 years, are closing, or going dark in reluctant succession. New York’s Broadway went dark immediately. The Hollywood Fringe Festival, which was slated for June 2020, first rescheduled to October when the state mandated a shut-down, then cancelled their 2020 annual event to 2021.
I have gotten to know the administrators of the Hollywood Fringe through their mentoring HMTC via a diversity scholarship. They were reluctant to cancel the festival since many of their theaters and the local businesses thrive financially on the event.
In San Francisco, theater colleagues of mine closed their doors with postponements and cancellation early on. As you might remember, San Francisco was the first in the state with the shelter-in-place mandate.
I was affected professionally. Two play productions of mine that were scheduled in the heart of San Francisco were postponed. Teatro Latino, and the Clarion Performing Arts Center, which is a predominately Asian performance showcase, closed for the duration.
The San Francisco’s Moment Improv Theater’s founder, Marcus Sams, postponed their shows from the onset. He said, “I don’t see it happening until 2021.” However, his theater took their improv classes online with a clever technological technique. He recreates a stage online with avatars representing the students. He is still perfecting that system with Zoom.
My pals at the Groundlings do a weekly online improv show called “The Crazy Uncle Joe.” It can be accessed through a Zoom link for $8. You can see Stephanie Courtney, who plays the Flo character in the Progressive commercials, do improv with gifted colleagues.
Theater departments at colleges have put their productions online when it became clear there were to be no stage performance. It worked somewhat for an audience to get the gist of the theater department’s production. It certainly made the parents happy for the activity.
As a playwright myself, I would rather put my plays on a shelf. Zoom was not intended for theater performance. It is, however, the best alternative for actors. Actors must act.
Hanford Multicultural Theater adjusted programming by creating a theater podcast. It also accepted digital submission to do the annual Hanford Monologue Slam. It went international and participants came from Australia, Columbia, England, Canada along with coast to coast submissions. Two New York casting agents were involved in the judging which was a plus for the actor participants.
Across the theater world, dismayed administrators search for alternative ways to sustain their theaters. They use websites to keep audience interest and ask for donations. Theaters have overhead pay. Frankly, the future is unknown for theaters.
The Hollywood fringe administrators have the best attitude I have seen so far. “We will come back bigger and better in 2021” said Ellen Der Herder, the programs director at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. They have a huge following and by June 2021, the hunger for the festival will be immense.
Yet, there is a worry that theater companies in general might not make it to 2021. In London’s West End, the musical “Mama Mia” is scheduled to reopen in 2021. Let us hope they do. Let us hope theaters in our homeland do, too.
Silvia Gonzalez Scherer is the Executive Artistic Director and co-founder of the Hanford Multicultural Theater Company. She is also a playwright and an actress.
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