Temporarily shuttered theaters haven’t entirely kept local acting troupes from doing what they love.
It’s just changed the format.
“I believe in the importance of keeping a positive spin but I’ve had moments where I was just looking at this empty theater and I was in tears because it’s a place of real communion and joy and here it sits,” said Michael Burns, the co-director of Mopco Improv Theatre in Schenectady.
“But it’s our job right now to discover the ways to maximize what we can given the current situation.”
Since mid-March, the theatre has continued running its improv shows, workshops and classes online, using Zoom among other platforms.
“We’re having fun finding out what we [can] develop that exploits and builds with this format . . . It’s an opportunity for growth,” Burns said.
The new platforms have forced the actors to rethink the stage and adjust their body language: the motion of physically entering and exiting a stage, for example, has been replaced by turning one’s webcam on or off.
Perhaps most importantly though, the digital programs keep both actors and viewers connected and entertained.
“Many of us [at Mopco] have been working together for a dozen years or more so we’re like family, and it matters to get together and play,” Burns said.
Each week, the theatre has run its Friday evening improv shows, streaming them on YouTube for free. It has also decided to offer classes at a reduced rate not only because they’ll be taught virtually but because Burns believes that many people are at a point of financial insecurity.
“As long as we can, we’re going to keep providing low cost or free stuff because that’s what we do,” Burns said.
Mopco is among several groups in the Capital Region’s theater community to take its productions to a new platform, or, as is the case with Ghostlight Radio, to start something completely new.
Ghostlight is the creation of Sean Baldwin, an Albany resident and long time actor, who recently decided to turn his alternative music radio show on WVCR 88.3 into an old-fashioned radio theater program.
“With all the theaters around the area starting to close, postpone, cancel their events, I decided to create a new outlet of sorts. So I announced that I was converting The Pipeline, my alternative show, to a radio theater program that I would take actors who are looking for something to do, looking for some way to create as long as things were staying closed,” Baldwin said.
After making the announcement, he invited several other local actors to help him create the first production: “Dracula.” It was recorded in the WVCR studio in February. Since then, he and his fellow Ghostlight actors have gotten together virtually to create several other radio theater productions including “Les Miserables,” “Little Women” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
After digging around online, Baldwin found free scripts of radio theater productions from the 1930s-1950s that perfectly fit his hour-long segment. Each week, he gets together with the cast via Zoom, records the reading and then edits it in Adobe Audition, adding in sound effects and bolstering the audio quality. New productions premiere at 10 p.m. on Fridays on WVCR 88.3 and there’s often a re-run of a previous production at 9 p.m.
“At this point, we’ve been going for a couple weeks now so we do have a fair archive of performances so we’ve got enough variety to keep things interesting, which I’m very pleased about,” Baldwin said.
Another group that has been hosting virtual readings is Quarantine e-Theatre, which brings local actors together to read previously unproduced works from regional playwrights. Each production is done over Zoom and posted to the group’s Facebook page. During every reading, the group raises money for various local theaters like Schenectady Light Opera Company, Not So Common Players and others.
As of earlier this week, it was well over $6,000.
Will Kempe’s Players, based in Troy, has also shifted its focus to digital programming.
Over the last few weeks, the Players were slated to rehearse for the summer production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Due to COVID-19, the rehearsals and the performance were postponed.
Instead, a few of the members decided to start a podcast called The Bardcast Weekly.
“It’s all very new to us but it fits and it’s something that is here in this time,” said Rob Johnson, one of the hosts of the podcast.
It combines a bit of performance with a discussion about the Players’ productions as well as Shakespeare’s work in general. Each member of the troupe has an in-depth knowledge of the bard’s work, so there’s an educational element to the podcast along with the entertainment aspect of it.
“We’ve all been to college specifically in Shakespeare programs, so our knowledge is far beyond that of a regular consumer of entertainment. There has to be some kind of education element to anything we do... At the same time, it’s really good entertainment. So we want to bring that appreciation and understanding of all the bawdy ins and outs of Shakespeare and how much fun it is when it’s done well to the general populous,” Johnson said.
He and the rest of the Players have planned out the first season of seven episodes, each with different guest artists and touching on different topics. New episodes will be released at noon on Fridays on Spotify, Anchor and YouTube.
While it’s unclear how long local theaters will be closed and how long social distancing measures will be in place, many of these local actors say they’ll continue presenting work as long as it is necessary.
“Once theaters start reopening and actors start having new projects again then I might consider going back to just music, but the response has been so good, the actors have been so excited about this; quite frankly I’m having a lot of fun with it. So it may even proceed beyond that. I always said I’ll do radio as long as it’s fun for me and it’s been fun the last seven years so I’ll keep doing radio theater as long as that’s fun too,” Baldwin said.
Here’s a glance at local theater productions and programs that one can still enjoy at home:
Find both the previous productions and news about upcoming shows on the Quarantine e-Theatre Facebook page. The readings typically take place on Monday evenings.
People can also donate to local theaters and theater groups through the Facebook page.
At 8 p.m. on Monday, Quarantine e-Theatre will do a reading of “Only Lonely” by Robin MacDuffie and will raise money for Schenectady Civic Players.
To listen to the shows, tune into WVCR 88.3 on Friday evenings at 10 p.m. The programs can also be found at wvcr.com and on the iHeart Radio app. Visit Ghostlight Radio on Facebook to learn more about upcoming programs and for additional information about the group. This week’s new program will be “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Mopco Improv Theatre
Upcoming shows include a free live improv show at 8 p.m. on Friday and “An Evening with the Mop and Bucket Company” at 8 p.m. on Saturday. To view the shows, visit live.mopco.org. For more about classes and workshops, visit mopco.org.
The Bardcast Weekly
New episodes of the first season of The Bardcast Weekly are released at noon on Fridays on Anchor, Spotify and YouTube. People can also view Will Kempe’s Players' production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Kristoph DiMaria by visiting willkempesplayers.com.
To reach the podcast team via email, the address is [email protected]