Open Stage to Stream AN ILIAD
In mid-March, theatres across the country were making tough decisions to shut down, postpone shows indefinitely, and even have mass layoffs of employees, and theatres in Central Pennsylvania have been no different. Open Stage was four days away from opening the annual production of The Diary of Anne Frank ("The world's longest running annual production, as far as our research has come up with," says Producing Artistic Director Stuart Landon.) Landon was also in the middle of rehearsals for both parts of Angels in America, which premiered in Central PA at Open Stage in 1996.
How do you present theatre in a time of social distancing? For many in the arts community, this has been a call to become very creative, and streaming theatrical and entertainment events has become the new normal across the country and across the world. The staff at Open Stage worked as quickly as possible to work with licensing houses to get permission to film The Diary of Anne Frank (to be presented further into the year), stream a live Zoom production of both parts of Angels in America, which was presented in six episodes over the course of a month. "Angels was a great, albeit bittersweet success for us as a creative team. For many of us, it was a bucket list show to work on, and it was a unique artistic experience, and one we will never forget. We are also incredibly grateful for those that donated to gain access to the show. These donations are an important part of our emergency fund," says Landon.
During the rehearsal process for the streaming production, Landon was inspired by the unique connection the cast and production team made in the show, and the way he as an audience member was able to connect to the cast members in a brand new way. He asked Thomas Weaver, a local actor, director and teacher - who also happened to currently be playing Joe in Angels in America - if he might be interested in reprising his role at The Poet in The Iliad, and present it as a streaming production.
Weaver had toured with the production (Originally produced by True North Theatre) for over a year, presenting the show in non-traditional venues, such as soup kitchens, shelters and libraries. Landon had seen the performance in 2017, and like many audiences members were awed by the simplicity, intimacy and profundity of the performance - there was no set, minimal props, one costume, a chair, and a live musician ("The Muse"). Weaver as The Poet retells the story of The Trojan War through a modern lens - portraying a mysterious storyteller who has recounted the history of Troy's fall and the players within the drama an innumerable amount of times.
"When I reached out to Tom about bringing this production back, he gave me an immediate 'yes.' But the problem remained how we could produce this with Tom being the only person in the room. We wanted to follow the restrictions of social distancing. We had to get really creative."
The process goes something like this:
Day 1: Chris Gibson, the Production Manager for the theatre, went in to clean up and clear out the newly renamed Capital BlueCross Main Stage. He moved all furniture, props, and the front row of the theatre out of the space. The floor still had the same paint job as the February production of Amelie.
Wayne Landon, the resident sound engineer for the theatre, went in to set up a sound set up, including various microphones.
Day 2: Brianna Dow, the Development Director and Business Manager of the theatre (who also happens to have extensive experience with videography) sets up five separate cameras, including a computer that "Zoomed" in the musician remotely from his own home. "The Muse" portrayed by Joseph Osborne, accompanies The Poet through Zoom.
Day 3: Brianna Dow and Chris Gibson show up and check everything separately. They wipe down every surface that Tom will touch, and leave hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes for his personal use. Tom enters at a later time, and all three people work in different rooms - Tom Weaver on stage, Dow in the office, and Gibson in the lobby.
The livestream production will be presented in a limited run - May 28, June 5 and 13 at 7:00pm. Patrons can access the production to stream live on these dates can be bought through the theatre's website are available on a sliding scale
This captivating and intimate theatrical experience will play for this limited run, and will be available to audiences around Harrisburg on a sliding scale - anywhere from $6 to a sponsorship level up to $1000. Ancient warfare collides with humor, poetry, and vivid storytelling to emerge as a powerful piece on mankind's love affair with war.
Landon knows that for many, being unable to see theatrical productions in person may not feel the same, but feels that the story and the artists will not shortchange the thought-provoking experience of seeing a great piece of theatre. "While we hope that we can return to having folks back in the building en masse someday, we know that our mission to support artists and inspire audiences will continue to thrive until that day comes."
More information can be found at openstagehbg.com.