The future of theater is online, says Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage. “The main way that the coronavirus pandemic will change all theaters, including Arena, is that we will be doing more programming online,” Smith says. “I just think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be more and more creativity happening online. I think you will see theaters streaming more plays and musicals, something that wasn’t really possible before: It’s always been very hard and complicated working with the unions. In this moment of time, in the middle of the pandemic, everybody is stretching more, and moving into decisions they might not have made [before].”
In that vein, Arena recently unveiled an eclectic package of free online offerings, mostly taped discussions and performances, presented in lieu of any in-person performances or events in the company’s Mead Center for American Theater, which will remain dark until September with the start of the company’s next season.
Smith is hopeful for the future, heartened by the response to the Roaring Back Fund, a campaign to support the artists and staff who will help propel the company forward post-COVID-19. “Over the last three weeks we’ve raised over a half-million dollars,” she says. “It’s amazing. This community is amazing.”
In the interim, there’s “Intermission,” a new online series of programming that kicks off with “Virtual Gifts of Art” posted to Arena’s website. “We reached out to a number of artists that are important to Arena, and they’ve been creating virtual small bits of art,” Smith says.
Included in the nearly two dozen submissions are Edward Gero performing Jack Karoac’s monologue The Dharma Burns, Nicholas Rodriguez singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” from Oklahoma!, a series of animated designs by Ken MacDonald from Disney’s Newsies, multiple dance lessons with Parker Esse, Arena’s veteran Helen Hayes Award-winning choreographer, and singing lessons with Laura Bergquist. There’s even a nine-minute “Cooking with Molly” segment in which Smith shows how to make her “Italian Eggs” (poached eggs in a rich homemade sauce of fresh tomatoes and basil).
Other similar videos from Arena’s archives have been posted in the “Behind-the-Scenes” section, with rehearsal footage and performance outtakes from past productions, and excerpts from two notable interviews led by Smith: a 19-minute-long conversation with Edward Albee and a five-minute talk with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Smith also leads “Molly’s Salon,” a free, weekly series of half-hour discussions featuring a rotating mix of Arena artists, leaders, and outside affiliates. Available for streaming from Arena’s website every Thursday night at 7 p.m., the upcoming lineup includes stage director Jackie Maxwell, Steve Moore of the Southwest Business Improvement District, and Edgar Dobie, Arena’s executive producer (April 23); New York-based actor and singer Nicholas Rodriguez, New York-based performer and choreographer Phil LaDuca (Arena’s Newsies), and Camille Busette of the Brookings Institution’s Race, Prosperity and Inclusion Initiative (April 30); playwright Craig Lucas, set designer Ken MacDonald, and Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (May 7); Jenn Sheeetz, Arena’s properties director, Aerica Shimizu Banks, public policy and social impact manager of Pinterest, and singer-songwriter Mary McBride (May 14); and playwright Lauren Yee, Kirk Johnson of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Anita Maynard-Losh, Arena’s director of community engagement and senior artistic advisor (May 21).
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