photo of an empty theater as seen from the stage looking out into seats

Live Vibrantly - December 1, 2020

Enjoy a Night at the Theater from the Comfort of Your Couch

by Amanda Ranowsky

The lights dim, and a hush descends. For a moment, all is dark. Soft sounds of the shuffle of feet and swish of heavy cloth promises excitement, intrigue, laughter and tears as a thrill of anticipation sneaks up your spine. Finally, the lights begin to rise.

There is nothing quite like that moment when a theater performance begins. For those of us who take great enjoyment from live theater productions, this year has meant missing out on moments like these.

As an active member of the Providence Players of Fairfax, a local community theater organization, I have felt the closure of theaters as both an audience member and an entertainer. Actor friends of mine continue to struggle both creatively and professionally. Many other friends are theater-lovers who are missing a beloved pastime.

As has been the case in many industries, there has also been a boom of innovation as the theater world finds its way through our current challenges. Theater companies around the globe have adapted so that actors and technicians can continue to create, and audiences can continue to engage and enjoy.

Increasingly, countless productions are being made available online and through streaming services. This is made possible thanks to actors and technicians who are applying their craft and skills to bring theater to life through Zoom recordings, made-for-streaming productions and radio plays.

Is Recorded Theater as Good as Live Theater?

Live theater provides the immediacy and intimacy of an experience shared between live performers and a live audience. While watching a recording of a theater production does not offer quite the same experience, I’d argue that it gets close.

The immediacy of live theater is still there, because in most cases you’re still watching how a single performance unfolded on a single night. Unlike films, theater isn’t recorded out of sequence, with many takes directed in order to get it just right. Also unlike cinematic recordings, streaming or recorded live productions often allow you to hear the audience reactions, allowing for a shared experience virtually rather than in person.

Great Performances, Small Price Tag

Pre-pandemic, if you wanted to see a professional theater production with big name performers and even bigger budgets, you’d have to venture into D.C., Baltimore or Richmond, board the train to New York City, or catch a flight to somewhere such as London’s West End. Unless you were able to snag a great deal, you might then expect to pay over $100 for a single ticket.

Now, more and more Broadway and West End-level productions are being made available online and through streaming services. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • National Theatre at Home: Before the pandemic, London’s National Theatre had taken to recording live theater for special streaming events to cinemas around the globe. Over the summer, they shared some of these performances on YouTube for free, one-week-long stints. Now, they’ve entered the streaming game, making their plays available to stream anytime, anywhere for a monthly fee of $12.99 or annual fee of $129.99. Enjoy performances from the likes of Olivia Colman (Mosquitos), Helen Mirren (Phèdre) and Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus).
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: The Globe was in the streaming business before the pandemic began; they’ve been sharing plays filmed at the famous theater since 2007. These are available via their own paid service, Globe Player. Now, they are also sharing fun content for free on YouTube, including a special 2019 production of Romeo and Juliet that is available to watch for free until February 28, 2021.
  • Broadway HD: NYC’s famous theater district already had its hand in streaming prior to this year. With their monthly subscription service, you can enjoy hundreds of plays and musicals filmed on Broadway stages.

The D.C. Theater Scene – Online

In the mood for something a bit more local? Washington, D.C. has always had an amazing theater scene, and many local theaters have found ways to share old and new performances online.

  • The Kennedy Center Digital Stage: The famous D.C. landmark is offering a variety of content for free, including (as of December 2020) some special holiday concerts and performance snippets. They also offer a special collection of events, shows and performances for free to members, subscribers and donors with Digital Stage Plus.
  • Ford’s Theater (made famous by its association with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln) produced a one-hour radio play adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Listen to it here any time until January 1, 2021. We can hope Ford’s Theater will offer more virtual productions in early 2021.
  • Folger Theatre and Folger Shakespeare Library: Folger Theatre has shared a filmed recording of their 2008 production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for free on YouTube. Also available are several special features about the play, including interviews with the cast and crew. The Folger Shakespeare Library is offering a free podcast exploring the connections between Shakespeare, his works, and our world. More than 150 episodes are available for you to listen to online.

Top-Notch Community Theater

The D.C. Metro Area is blessed to have a large number of community theater organizations. Pre-pandemic, there was an abundance of opportunities for amateur actors and technicians to create and audiences to enjoy quality theater at a reasonable price tag. While the pandemic cancelled most of the 2019-2020 season, many local community theaters have found ways to stay active by offering online and socially distanced performances.

  • Reston Community Players are planning a fully produced streamed production of Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods in early 2021.
  • Little Theatre of Alexandria (LTA) is offering a pay-to-stream production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Described as “an unusual A Christmas Carol for unusual times,” LTA presents this holiday classic “through live acting, animation, and virtual reality.” The production is available to stream until January 3, 2021.
  • Providence Players of Fairfax (PPF) has recorded several virtual one-act plays over the past several months. Some are still available to view for free on YouTube. On January 9, 2021, PPF will continue its traditional holiday partnership with Young Hearts Foundation by presenting a participatory “Scavenger Hunt for a Cure”.
  • The Arlington Players (TAP) produced a radio play of It’s A Wonderful Life. The play broadcast on radio station WERA, 96.7FM on December 25, 2020.

Many theaters are offering recorded productions for a limited period of time. If you miss any of those listed above, be sure to check their websites for access to more productions in the future.

From professional productions around the world to community productions next door, there is something for everyone to enjoy. While we anxiously await the day our theaters can reopen, let us celebrate the innovation and creativity of the theater community by engaging in and supporting their many virtual offerings from the comfort of home.

___________________

As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin House Incorporated to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining GHI, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.

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