If you’re a pessimist, the pandemic is starting to look more like bad climate than bad weather. But area theater groups remain optimistic. They’re gearing up for the day the storm passes. Until then, they’re entertaining local audiences with creative alternatives to conventional live theater on stage. Here’s a snapshot of what they’re planning and why.
Florida Studio Theatre
FST pulled the plug on live productions on March 15. Since then, it has filled the gap with inventive online improv, but that’s about to change. According to Richard Hopkins, FST’s producing artistic director, “After careful consideration, we plan to reopen with two new musical revues in late March. These will comply with all CDC guidelines, including masks, social distancing, temperature checks and limited attendance. We’ve also updated our air-conditioning system, with MERV-13 air filters to eliminate recycled air.” Hopkins admits it’s a lot of trouble. “But it’s worth it to us. Our audience is starving for live theater—and we’re hungry, too.”
Want to go?
Carole J. Bufford’s “Vintage POP!”
What: The evolution of popular music from the ’20s to the ’80s.
When: Opens March 24
Where: FST Keating Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota
Rebecca Hopkins and Sarah Durham’s “Three Pianos”
What: A nod to piano men (and women).
Where: FST Court Cabaret, 1265 First St., Sarasota
When: Opens March 31
Tickets for both shows are $35-$39. Call 366-9000 or visit FloridaStudioTheatre.org for information.
The Urbanite has a full calendar of alternative performances. According to Brendan Ragan, the theater’s co-artistic director, “We’re planning a series of outdoor play readings. Unlike our typically intimate Urbanite productions, these will have lots of space, with actors on microphones reading exciting new works to a distanced audience. Emily Kaczmarek will also do a reading of her new play — she’s a fellow of the Hermitage Artist Retreat. On the Urbanite stage, we’re doing my 'Safe House' as an immersive virtual reality experience limited to micro-audiences of four. Our third annual 'Modern Works Festival' from April 13 to 18 will be entirely online. We’ll also offer two more free radio plays as bonus content.”
Want to go?
Ronan Noone’s “Thirst”
What: A servant’s eye view of “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
When: Jan. 14 – 16
Where: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 1534 Mound St., Sarasota
Brendan Ragan’s “Safe House”
What: An immersive thriller in virtual reality.
When: Jan. 26 – April 4
Where: Urbanite Theatre, 1487 Second St., Sarasota
Emily Kaczmarek’s “Sam & Lizzie”
What: Two childhood friends create a fantasy world after 9/11. They make return visits whenever the real world gets ugly.
When and where: Feb. 13, 5 and 7:30 p.m. at Hermitage Artist Retreat beach, 6660 Manasota Key Road, Englewood; 6 p.m., Feb. 14 at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 1534 Mound St., Sarasota
Info: Call 321-1397 or visit UrbaniteTheatre.com
The pandemic posed unique problems for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. Its troupe of second-year actors puts on plays, but only as a means to an end. Educating a new generation of professional stage actors is the point. Greg Leaming, the conservatory’s director, had to keep their lessons going in a new world of social distancing. He also had to find a new stage.
“Classwork was a relatively quick fix,” Leaming says. “We created hybrid classes for acting and movement. They’re a mix of Zoom classes and masked group practice outdoors. The biggest challenge was creating performance opportunities. We solved that with two virtual productions. Our first, 'Twilight,' has already closed. 'Julius Caesar' is coming up in April. We’ll produce it with the same technical talents from 'Twilight.' Jonathan Epstein will be directing, and he’s editing the script right now for January rehearsals. After that, we’re planning a full season next year in the Cook Theater. It should be safe to get together by then.”
See it online
William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”
What: A disputed election in Rome.
When: April 7 – 26
The Asolo Rep makes its home at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Inside, all the stages are now off-limits. Outside, there’s a massive, raised terrace projecting out from the entrance. Last fall, Michael Donald Edwards took an imaginative leap, and repurposed it as a platform for an outdoor stage. “We Need a Little Christmas” was the first production there. It was also a proof of concept.
“We built a stage and a lighting grid in front of the theater,” Edwards explains. “Then we performed the show entirely outdoors under strict COVID safety protocols.”
Would people come? That was the question.
“We decided that if we could sell 65% of the seats, we’d go ahead with more outdoor productions in 2021. We actually sold 85% of our tickets—and we’re moving forward to an exciting season. This is our bridge to the next season—and a hoped-for return to normalcy.”
The Asolo Rep will announce its line-up of plays on Jan. 12, so check AsoloRep.org for more info.
The Players Centre for Performing Arts
Jeffery Kin is the Players’ producing artistic director. Last December, he directed a successful outdoor production of “A Christmas Carol.” Kin plans to repeat that success in the months ahead.
“Our survival strategy boils down to staying safe and thinking small,” he says. “We plan to keep staging excellent outdoor productions with small projects, small casts, and small budgets. We’ll start with two pop-up shows at The Bazaar on Apricot and Lime. After that … we’ve got a few musical surprises in spring.”
Want to go?
Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir”
What: A fantasia on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins.
When: Jan. 21-31
Where: 821 Apricot Ave., Sarasota
Elliott Raines’ anthology: “In Love with Shakespeare”
What: A compilation of the Bard’s love scenes.
When: Feb. 4-14
Where: 821 Apricot Ave., Sarasota
Tickets for each show are $20. Call 365-2494 or visit ThePlayers.org