Keeping Busy During Shelter-in-Place
by Joe Basque, Contributior
On June 29, the Broadway League announced that its forty-one theaters announced that they would remain closed until at least January 3, 2021. The Great White Way has been shut down since March 12, the longest production shutdown in history. Local theater fans have experienced a similar loss, with the last productions of the 2019-2020 season cut short or cancelled by March 15. While there are tentative hopes for some live theater this fall, some local theaters have been creatively keeping theater alive during the Covid 19 pandemic. Theater is available, if you know where to look for it.
The most obvious example is the Omaha Community Playhouse, where Billy McGuigan’s Rave On! The Music of Buddy Holly returned to OCP for the month of June as an outdoor event in their parking lot. The event was marvelously conceived, with socially distanced parking in the lot. Fans could bring nosh and sit in the empty space next to the driver’s side of the vehicle, or they could sit in the vehicle and listen on a dedicated radio station in air-conditioned comfort. McGuigan and his band put on a terrific show on a raised stage on the east end of the lot. While it certainly wasn’t the show it is in front of a packed crowd indoors, the high energy show was a prefect salve for a theater starved fan like me.
The Omaha Community Playhouse has also been streaming locally written and performed productions, including Eminent Domain by Laura Campbell, Recommended Reading for Girls by Ellen Struve, What A Kid Did With A Piano by J. Isaiah Smith, and One Way To Mars by Timothy and Mallory Vallier. They will begin streaming A Christmas Carol from Dick Boyd’s final season in 2005 on July 10. Links to all the performances is available at www.omahaplayhouse.com/education-and-programming/view/athome.
The Omaha Community Playhouse is not the only local theater making good use of its parking lot this summer. The Lofte Theatre in Manley Nebraska has been staging outdoor movies and concerts as well. Their next outdoor music concert is with Jimmy Weber on July 11, followed by Barn Brilliance, a Lofte Theatre outdoor talent show scheduled for July 10 and 11. Information on all their special events is available on Facebook and on their website: https://www.lofte.org/2020-events.
The Shelterbelt Theatre has released audio recordings of locally written and performed monologues. Actors ranging from Teri Fender, Suzanne Withem, Emma Johnson and Homero Vela perform pieces by Daena Schweiger, Ben Beck, and Scott Working. Tim and Mallory Vallier also introduced a piece from their opera One Way To Mars entitled Blue Marble. All the performances are available at www.shelterbelt.org/shelterbelt-show-wagon.
The Rose Theatre has done one step better, with a Zoom production of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. During June, seven students and two teaching artists collaborated over the course of four weeks to design, compose and adapt a telling of Frankenstein completely over Zoom. The production is available by searching for ‘The Rose Theater Omaha’ on youtube. In addition, don’t forget that The Rose is continuing virtual children’s theater camps this summer. Information about the camps is available on their website at www.rosetheater.org/education/classes-and-camps/.
The Chanticleer Theatre has also been active on Zoom and Facebook, posting a variety of Chanticleer Minis musical video performances on their Facebook page throughout the summer. Their Facebook page is constantly being updated with new artistic content.
On June 25, Nebraska Shakespeare kicked off this summer’s Shakespeare On Your Screen programming. Nebraska Shakespeare’s Facebook page now includes short Shakespeare monologues by On The Green cast members that would have been performed live this summer. On July 11 they will start monthly summer teen online workshops. Information is also available on their Facebook page.
Virtual theater summer workshops are also available this July through the Circle Theatre. The workshops, which begin on July 6, will involve five virtual sessions with two professional coaches from the Circle Theatre. By the end of the sessions, the student will have polished comedic and dramatic monologues. More information about the workshops are available at the Circle Theatre’s website at www.circletheatreomaha.org.
The Great Plains Theatre Conference was forced to cancel its 2020 conference due to Covid 19. However, a cutting of Stories: On the Brink, by Artistic Director Colleen O’Doherty and featuring Jessica Johnson is available on the Anastasis Theatre Company’s Facebook page. The new play, created in collaboration with people affected by homelessness in the Omaha area, will be performed in its entirety at the 2021 GPTC. The Hoover Studios initially planned to offer Zoom performances of short plays by Beaufield Berry, Kevin Lawler, Ellen Struve and Joe Hoover on June 27th. The event was cancelled at the last minute, but plans are in the works to reschedule the performances.
The Union for Contemporary Arts response to the COVID-19 crisis has focused on their Radical HeARTS initiative. The initiative has concentrated into two main areas of focus: Connected Minds and Dedicated Hands. The Dedicated Hands efforts include growing fresh produce in their Abundance Garden and regularly sharing creative activities and healthy snacks with their Art Club families and North Omaha seniors. They are also teaming up with community partners No More Empty Pots and contributing Union team member hours every week to their Feeding Our Neighbors Emergency Food Relief Service. Connected Minds means virtual programming driven to rise to the occasion of this moment. Holding space for critical conversations on justice and community care; sharing artist resources for thriving under limited circumstances; encouraging moments of quiet, reflection, and peace. Most recently, as part of their Pride Month celebrations, the UCA live streamed a conversation between playwright and actor Eric Lawson, visual artist Tiana Conyers moderated by artist and curator Ang Bennett. The discussion is available on their Facebook page, along with information about ongoing programs. Their website also contains a wealth of information about the innovative ways the UCA is rising to the challenge. Follow them at www.u-ca.org/radical-hearts.
In light of the tragic deaths of James Scurlock in Omaha, George Floyd in Minneapolis and so many others this summer and in the past, Beaufield Berry is sharing the script of her remarkable play Red Summer on the Blue Barn’s website, www.bluebarn.org. It’s worth a read, even if you got to see the production.
Local theater programs and events are popping up all over the area. You just need to keep an eye out for it. More will be on the way during the course of the summer, so keep checking in and take part in any way you can.