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Photo: Camilla Forte.
Nikkie Bauer sticks social distancing reminders for spectators onto the window of Chicago’s Reckless Records, where she performs her window play.

This story reminds me of being a kid. I had a passion for theater and many impractical ambitions. For instance, I was certain that if I put together a production of “Snow White and Rose Red” from the Brothers Grimm, my friends and I would be welcomed to perform it before a movie at the Lafayette Theatre. The grownups laughed.

In today’s article, frustrated theater people who persevered made surprising things happen.

Camilla Forte writes at American Theatre, “When the pandemic shut down live theatre in March of 2020, the ensemble members behind Chicago’s Stop Motion Plant were in the middle of producing a performance commissioned by Theatre Evolve. With the stages shut down and their play canceled, they found themselves having to pivot.

“As the world adapted to a new reality, the group began meeting virtually to discuss the possibility of producing and performing live theatre in a way that would keep both the performers and the audience safe. Eventually, inspired by Macy’s dioramas [and] Chicago performers who put on ‘porch concerts’ throughout the summer, the concept for Window Plays was born.

“Presented as a ‘walking tour with theatrical displays,’ and running Feb. 19-21, the performance was not a traditional narrative play, but rather a collection of six short individual vignettes performed within the storefronts of six separate businesses in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.

In order to secure each storefront venue, members of Stop Motion Plant went door to door to explain the concept to shop owners.

“After receiving what they described as overwhelming support, the group landed on performing out of the Neo-Futurist Theater, Rattleback Records, Enjoy, Women and Children First, *Play, and Raygun.

“Each two- to five-minute play was acted out on a loop for an hour in its storefront window, allowing audience members to cycle between performances in a way that encouraged social distancing while making the experience accessible to a fairly large number of people. …

“Ensemble member Kevin Michael Wesson … drew on his puppetry background when determining the music and scale for his window play, Badvice. During his two-minute performance, Wesson asked audience members increasingly personal questions through the phone while pressing his hand against theirs through a pane of glass sanitized after every act. After the interaction concluded, he bestowed attendees with an envelope with three pieces of advice —two good and one bad — as a parting gift. …

“[Perry] Hunt placed a cardboard cutout of herself herself behind a screen and illuminated the cutout from behind. She then Facetimed her audience, convincing them the person they were speaking to on the phone was the person whose silhouette they could see in the window, only to reveal she was never actually there. …

“Although the performances were a revival of live theatre, the actors still had to grapple with the challenges of a virtual format throughout the six months it took them to put together the piece. …

“Despite the challenges this format presented, some ensemble members found the innovations born from working around these challenges refreshing. Hunt, for instance, found that working within a more limited format allowed her the freedom to think about theatre in more abstract ways, with this experience being something that will influence her work beyond the pandemic.

“ ‘I think it’s given me permission and space to think about more innovative ways that I can produce art,’ Hunt said. ‘This project has pushed me to be challenged and make challenging things.’ “

More at American Theatre, here.

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