Chicago Theatres and Their Survival During Stay-at-Home Order
During this time of worry, solitude, and simply being bored, millions of Americans have turned to one thing that has the power to take those negative feelings away for a couple hours: entertainment. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have seen a large spike in their number of viewers daily. While we all take this time to binge watch TV shows and watch movies that we have always wanted to see, we mustn't forget the root of where such entertainment has blossomed from. Yes, I’m talking about the theatre.
It has been a month and a half since the world has shut down and there isn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel yet. Like a big chunk of Americans who are having to worry about paying rent, theatre companies in Chicago are having to find ways to pay their rent as well. Some theatre companies like Hell in a Handbag Productions are fortunate to not have a permanent space they need to make monthly payments on at this time. However, Pride Films and Plays pays $10k for rent every month even if they don’t necessarily use their space. David Zak, the executive producer at Pride Films and Plays, says that once the stay-at-home order was put in place, there was a big rush of donations from donors that was really helpful. The only problem he sees with donations in the future is having to ask the same people to donate money every month, especially when they could use it for themselves. “You can’t keep going back to those people and say ‘Ok, we got our first month paid. Now we need our second month. Now we need our third month.’ We haven’t had to do that, but we sure don’t want to do that...We are always looking for new donors.” (Donation links to theatres are included at the end of the
Most theatre companies are hoping to reopen their doors in mid-June, but since nobody knows for sure, theatres have been using technology to entertain their patrons. Hell in a Handbag Productions has recently posted Sexy Baby, a child beauty pageant parody, on their YouTube page. Hell in a Handbag’s artistic director, David Certa, said, “We're looking into doing live viewing events so people can participate in the fun and we can help people laugh, because that's what Handbag does.”
Other theatre companies have live streams already scheduled. On May 2nd at 7pm, About Face Theatre will be live streaming Kinship: An All Ages Queer Variety Show on their Facebook page. Kinship is a variety show that showcases original work by young queer performers in Chicago. It’ll feature singers, dancers, poets, drag queens, etc... The mission of Kinship is to create a safe space and build community among queer youth.
About Face Theatre isn’t the only theatre to make the temporary switch to digital theatre. Pride Films and Plays just did a virtual reading of Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons on Zoom a couple weeks ago. Executive producer, David Zak, said that “the response was really incredible. It was really easy to follow the action because it was only four characters and it’s a play with not a lot of movement. I think those sort of plays work really well in the Zoom format.” Zak said they had people all across the country log on to Zoom for the event. The event was so well received that Pride Films and Plays scheduled five more live online readings of LGBTQ-themed plays in a series called “Pride in Place.” The next play is Steven Dietz’s Lonely Planet. Bound to resonate with audiences today, the story is about a recluse named Jody who has been hiding in his store to avoid the contraction of HIV and the week he spends outside the shop getting to know the world he has abandoned. The play is set to premiere Thursday, May 14th at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $10.
Theatre Wit has a recent recording of Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick, a comedy about Shakespeare’s Richard III and his determination to be class president. Audience members can select off a schedule what day they want to view it and have options for how much money they want to spend on tickets ($25-50). The process is just like going to the theatre. The only difference is the show is broadcast on your computer. You can watch Teenage Dick through May 17th!
Theatre in the Dark’s production of Three Stories Up is scheduled for two weekends in May. Every night the play is performed live in the dark so that you can only hear dialogue, reminiscent of radio shows before television was popular. Three Stories Up is a thriller about the murder of a cop’s husband and her journey through Vancouver’s criminal underground. tickets start at $10 and run May 14th-23rd.
Victory Gardens Theatre is doing a streaming of their 2017/18 season’s hit Fun Home. Winner of 5 Tony Awards, Fun Home is an intimate musical that goes through Alison’s childhood through a series of memories and conversations - from her coming out to her moving journey to acceptance. Tickets for the live stream are $20. Once you buy a ticket you will be able to view the musical between May 12th and May 24th.
Silk Road Rising has added five short plays to stream for free on Youtube. They range from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
The Annoyance Theatre has a pre-recorded version of their show “Out of Touch” posted on their website. There is a $5 suggested donation.
So next time that you’re cooped up in the house and are looking for something different to do during quarantine, skip the Netflix and support local theatres and local artists!