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Act II Playhouse Goes Virtual With ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION, HINDSIGHT IS 2020

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ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION, HINDSIGHT IS 2020 starts streaming Aug. 25, 2020.

Act II Playhouse came to a standstill when COVID-19 changed how theatres could present live performances. A small regional theatre in Ambler, PA, they canceled two shows, issued refunds and tried to plan for the future. Fast forward a few months. Pennsylvania is slowly reopening but guidelines include reducing capacity and with a 134-seat house, the Company could not produce in their space. Act II decided to try offering digital content.

"Patrons were asking us to stream our shows without realizing the range of artistic, legal and financial challenges streaming presents," said Carol Flannery, the Playhouse's Director of Marketing and Communications. She added, "We are a small organization. We produce trailer videos for each production, but nothing on this scale."

Electile Dysfunction, Hindsight is 2020, is a sketch comedy revue written by Tony Braithwaite, Act II's Artistic Director, along with Will Dennis, Tracie Higgins and Dan Matarazzo. "We thought if we could find a virtual audience, a convention and election season political comedy like our revue would be a good bet," said Braithwaite.

With Braithwaite as the primary writer, the royalty rights were secure - a typical obstacle for regional theatres. The script was still being written, so the writers could pivot - take out the planned improv scenes, make design changes, adjust some of the technical aspects, and adapt for social distancing. "The challenge," said Braithwaite, "is we are not doing a play, but neither is it a movie. Plus, we wanted to create a safe working environment for everyone."

The next hurdle was how to deliver the show to audiences. "We researched all the options," Flannery continued. "Existing video streaming platforms have been overwhelmed with requests from much larger organizations and none were built for the needs of regional theatres." She added, "We needed a platform that didn't demand an app download, offered sharing protections and could help us sell tickets. We could not absorb exorbitant fees or the revenue splits the 'big players' charged. We felt like David in a world of Goliaths."

Flannery is part of a national chat group of theatre marketing professionals who are sharing resources. She continued, "We were asking for streaming solutions and Ashley Dinges, the Marketing and Sales Director at GFOUR Productions (gfourproductions.com) - a producer in NYC - responded. She had just been on the same path and found a white label option developed by a San Diego, CA start-up, called SURFCODE (surfcode.io). The venture had been successful for GFour and she had advanced the platform even further while working on streaming their hit show, 'Menopause The Musical'."

Hilton Sher founded Surfcode as his third successful software venture, with a focus on web development. Several arts organizations became clients, including TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Boston Ballet. When clients began to cancel performances and lose revenue, Sher convened a focus group and asked what Surfcode could do to help. The answer was, "help us stream our content securely and meet any legal requirements."

"We're coders," said Sher, "and we already knew the cutting edge streaming technology needed to do this in a way that could really help performing arts organizations." He continued, "It sounds like a movie script, but we worked 20-hour days and in 7 days had a working platform that would meet our clients' unique needs. We launched our first streamed performance 3 days later, and they sold over 1000 tickets."

The new venture, PlayPlay.tv, (PlayPlay) became official in March 2020, and since then has helped performing arts organizations sell over 20,000 tickets, plus retain revenue for canceled shows.

"We knew by early June that we could not perform live," Flannery continued, "and on July 1, we broke the news to our subscribers." Act II Playhouse will become Act II Virtual Theatre, and within 90 days of that first decision, 'Electile' will be streaming via the PlayPlay platform. "The stream is launching August 25th - the first day patrons would have been coming to see the show in-person," said Flannery. "We thought we were too small to be able to offer a virtual experience or that patrons would back-out. So far, we have been met with overwhelming support."

What's next for this partnership? Sher responded, "We're working with Act II to understand their ticketing software to see if we can create a direct interface and we're working on a direct purchase platform for partners who don't have ticketing software." Flannery added, "We are also working with Surfcode and our production partner, Pro Cine (procineusa.com) on an ASL interpreted version of 'Electile' and are really excited by the potential to reach a new audience. We added Donna Ellis and Brian Morrison of Hands Up Productions (handsupproductions.com) in Philadelphia to the team for guidance with that venture. They have very specific expertise in theatre interpreting. Pro Cine will film and embed the ASL interpretation and we hope to learn more about the needs of the d/Deaf community." Sher added, "Our culture and commitment is accessibility for everyone."

When Flannery had her first Zoom call with Sher, she noticed the surfer-themed art on the walls behind him. "The company is called Surfcode. I had to ask," she said. Sher confirmed that yes, he was a surfer. "This seemed perfect," commented Flannery. "An entrepreneurial young company with a founder who takes risks. Risk is something we understand in theatre. Hilton said he wanted live theatre to be around for his kids when they can return to a physical space. We were in."

Electile Dysfunction, Hindsight is 2020, starts streaming Aug. 25, 2020. Fresh from the swing state of Pennsylvania and just in time for the mayhem of the election season! Tony Braithwaite leads a shameless cast of characters in an original sketch comedy revue. The troupe irreverently skewers the left, right and center with real voter interviews, press conference puns, pandemic parody, and BEST of all - a Trump vs. Nixon sing-off. Get ready for a riotous ride through America 2020!

Written by Tony Braithwaite, Will Dennis, Tracie Higgins and Dan Matarazzo with Dan Matarazzo on piano. Directed by Tony Braithwaite. Starring Tony Braithwaite, Will Dennis and Tracie Higgins. Sound Design by Larry Fowler with Costume Design by Constance Case. Filming and post-production by Patrick Dolan of Pro Cine.

Virtual Tickets start at $30 and are available online at act2.org, or by calling the Act II Playhouse Box Office at 215.654.0200. Group, watch party and non-profit fundraiser discounts are available by phone. 'Electile' will be offered with an optional ASL interpretation and closed captioning.


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