For months now, theatergoers have been hoping for a return to normalcy, a chance to watch plays together. Dr. Anthony Fauci, however, recently predicted that returning to the theater with pre-pandemic comfort levels might be off the table for another year or so, longer than initially thought.
Seemingly in response to coronavirus news coverage and Fauci’s recent concerns, ArtsEmerson, a leading local theater canceled in-person performances through June 2021 and Trinity Repertory Company in Providence postponed indoor performances until fall 2021. Many other local theaters are reportedly following suit.
But even though COVID concerns continue to keep the city’s theater doors shuttered, local artists are still planning to interact with audiences in creative ways — in some cases even getting us out of the house and away from our computers. In addition to the existing lunchtime conversations, play discussion clubs and audio plays, artists are highlighting history’s heroes, delving deeper into the classical canon or exploring identity and gender. Here are some fall finds — both virtual and socially distanced — that push the boundaries of traditional theater.
'Our Time Machine'
ArtsEmerson | Through Sept. 22
Artist Ma Liang known as Maleonn invites his father to collaborate on an autobiographical stage performance “Papa’s Time Machine,” after he learns his father is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Maleonn’s dad, also an artist, shares in the above trailer that he used to run the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theater. The process of creating the play featuring life sized puppets—with turning metal cogs, curling mechanical fingers and blinking robotic eyes—is detailed in this multiple award-winning documentary. Produced and directed by Yang Sun and S. Leo Chiang, the intimate film pushes viewers to think about mortality, love and loss. Tonight is the last chance to watch the film. Tickets for the 7 pm showing are here.
'Queer and Trans Voting Story Circles'
The Theater Offensive | Sept. 22
The Theater Offensive is hoping to increase voter engagement among queer and trans people of color using the creative process with its #voteoffensively initiative that spans two events. The first invites the community to participate in facilitated story circles centered on queer and trans issues and policy considerations. Election information, resources, and voter registration will be provided. #VoteOffensively is a QTPOC creative voter engagement initiative in partnership with MassCreative's Create the Vote.
The Zoom event, which can be attended tonight only, is a place for storytelling, community building and civic dialogue. An RSVP is required for tonight's free story circle at 7 pm.
Barrington Stage Company | Sept. 23-27
Barrington Stage mounted an acclaimed production of “Three Viewings” in its second season in 1996. This year, Broadway actress Angel Desai and “That 70’s Show” stars Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith will perform in a virtual reading of award-winning playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s dark comedy. Set in a funeral home in the Midwest, the play focuses on the stories of Emil, a funeral director; Mac, a jewelry thief who heads home for her grandmother’s funeral; and Virginia, a woman of a certain age who has lost her husband. The intertwining threads of their lives are revealed over time. The streamed reading is being presented as a preview of a run later this year on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, when/if indoor theater is allowed to resume. Viewing details and ticket/donation information are here.
'Empress Mei Li Lotus Blossom'
Greater Boston Stage Company | Sept. 25-29
At a high-stakes meeting, an award-winning producer plans to join forces with an ambitious film star from Hong Kong to take Broadway by storm. But all bets are off when another character enters the picture. The short Zoom play is written and directed by award-winning writer and “Iron Fist” actress Christine Toy Johnson. The cast features Michelle Liu Coughlin, Lily Kaufman, and EJ Zimmerman. To watch the play live at 8 pm Sept. 25, purchase tickets here for the Zoom link. For a recording of the performance, available for viewing through Sept. 29, tickets are here.
'Watertown Historical Moving Plays: The Charles W. Lenox Experience'
New Repertory Theatre | Sept. 26-Nov. 8
“The Charles W. Lenox Experience” walking play by news reporter turned playwright Ken Green with direction by Michael Ofori explores the life of Lenox, a Black soldier who was part of the 54th regiment in the Civil War. Lenox, played by Kadahj Bennett, leads the tour which covers about a half mile. Audiences check in at Watertown Square green (15 Galen Street for your GPS) and visit four stops that were significant to Lenox — who was the owner of a barbershop — including Saltonstall Park and Common Street Cemetery. History buffs can download “The Charles W. Lenox Experience” timeline ahead of time and view an arsenal of additional resources. The play is first up in the “Watertown Historical Moving Plays” series, a theatrical and educational experience developed in partnership with the Watertown Free Public Library and the Historical Society of Watertown. Tickets and details are here.
The Theater Offensive | Oct. 1
Using a queer and virtual adaption of Legislative Theatre methodology — a branch of social theater that brings social responsibility and political commitment to scenic arts — "ID Monologues” will focus on the personal stories of queer and trans artists of color in Boston around voter ID laws. It’s too early to name the artists involved, but those who participate will record their stories from home. The production will be viewable through the theater’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Register here for reminders and links to watch the 7:30pm show, which is free with suggested donations.
The Umbrella Arts Center | Oct. 17
A young man’s plans to make a name for himself with his unboxing videos — the unpacking of products, especially high tech consumer products, where the process is captured on video like the one above and uploaded to the internet — prove unsuccessful until tragedy strikes. This family drama written by local puppeteer, actor, writer and producer Libby Schap will premiere on Zoom. It’s being produced in conjunction with the 2020 Concord Festival of Authors. Schap’s most recent work “Flying Lessons,” a shadow theater piece, was awarded the Jim Henson Foundation Workshop and Production grants. The event is free but an RSVP for the 8 pm show is required.
Company One Theatre | Oct. 22-25
When riding the subway, most commuters might dive into a book, play on their phones or talk with friends. But on Marathon Monday, seven undocumented Bostonians share their stories with one another when their train gets delayed in “Downtown Crossing.” Lupe from Guatemala, Nigerian born Bolade and Declan from Ireland are just a few of the people involved. The story, by playwright David Valdes is the resulting work of Company One’s two-year “Boston (un)Documented Project.” Valdes interviewed DACA recipients, immigrant rights advocates, current and former undocumented immigrants and more to develop the piece. Audiences can watch the play via Zoom. Visit Company One for details.
ArtsEmerson presented by Central Square Theater | Oct. 1-3
Acts of kindness both great and small can have a profound effect on people. After Chinese shoe repair shop owner Mr. Joy is attacked in a neighborhood in Harlem, the audience learns just how much he means to the community through his customers. Under the direction of outgoing artistic director David Dower, Debra Walton — who has appeared in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Grand Theft Auto V” — embodies nine different patrons who share more about Mr. Joy, from an 11-year-old child named Clarissa to a grandmother named Bessie. The play, written by playwright Daniel Beaty, will be performed at Starlight Square in Cambridge starting Oct. 1 at 7:30 pm.
'Fire Flowers and a Time Machine'
Wilbury Theatre Group | Oct. 1-17
Audiences will travel to the past and to the future to meet ancestors and descendants on a Providence-based journey that includes monologues, poetry, dance and ritual. Directed by the Wilbury’s artist-in-residence Shey Rivera Ríos, the narrative — which is still taking shape — is a collaboration with the diverse group of artists performing in the show. To participate, attendees will be split into audience pods of 10- 20 people that move from one stage to the next as they encounter new characters on their time-twisting voyage. The show will be presented outdoors at the WaterFire Arts Center and the nearby American Locomotive Works campus starting Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are here.
'The Nature of Shakespeare'
Actors' Shakespeare Project | Oct. 3 and Oct. 17
Filmed at various locations in the beautiful Arnold Arboretum at the end of August, a small group of actors — most of color — tackled some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, monologues and scenes such as “King Lear,” “The Tempest” and “Macbeth.” ASP’s artistic director Christopher Edwards picked pieces that nodded to the natural environment. "The Nature of Shakespeare" videos, in two separate episodes, will be live streamed on ASP and the Arboretum’s sites at 7:30 pm on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17. For more information visit ASP.