HARRISBURG, PA – Open Stage presents the 2020-2021 season with completely free access to all virtual shows.
Every month, Open Stage will perform a new play live on YouTube, and give free access to live and archived performances.
This format will require high production turnover, with a new play being rehearsed and performed every month. It also comes with certain caveats. Due to a huge reduction in budget, the five full-time staff members - Benny Benamati, Brianna Dow, Chris Gibson, Rachel Landon, and Stuart Landon - will comprise the casts, production teams and the crews of the entire in-house season, with limited guest artists and no live audience. No licenced shows will be produced, and the team will rely on popular public domain stories to present in the 2020-2021 season.
The lineup is as follows:
- Treasure Island - adapted from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson (April 30 - May 16, 2021)
- Poirot Returns! - adapted from the works of Agatha Christie (May 28 - June 13, 2021)
“The experience of seeing a live performance is priceless. Ask anyone who’s been changed by sitting in a dark theatre laughing and crying with a bunch of strangers. Everyone should be able to take part in that,” says Stuart Landon, who is going into his fourth year as Producing Artistic Director at Open Stage. “Make no mistake, we are taking some risk. We are in unprecedented times; from the smallest community theatre to the big houses on Broadway - all theatres are struggling. But we feel strongly that this is the right direction for us to go in. We have so much work to do to engage the parts of our community that have never been to live theatre. That starts with knocking down some of the barriers, including financial ones.”
The five staff members (much like the roving acting troupes of the 16th and 17th centuries) will develop the stories and stage them insularly, serving as directors, actors, technicians, designers. “I like to call us ‘theatricians,’” says Chris Gibson, Production Manager at Open Stage. “All of us have worn many hats in our careers, both here and in theatres across the country. We’ve all been actors and directors, but each of us also had the experience of sewing on buttons and waiting for paint to dry at two in the morning. We are going to be using that collective experience while pulling a lot of tricks out of our sleeves to make these entertaining and meaningful shows.”
Audiences can expect to see a handful of actors playing many characters in every show, but will consistently see a lot of unique theatrical devices, including puppetry, found-object design, trunk show performance, projection and green screen techniques.
Despite the fact that the Open Stage staff has committed to making most of their “mainstage” season with only five people, Landon wants to make it clear that the theatre still supports a company of artists, which is a major part of the mission statement. Landon invites those in the local community to present ideas and projects that Open Stage can help promote and produce, calling it the Associate Artist Series. To kick off this series, local actor and horror movie aficionado Matthew Golden will be presenting an online production of Night of the Living Dead in October, co-directed with Philip Mann.
Students will also be included in the season, and will have virtual performances free to the public year-round. Low-cost classes will begin in late September for ages 8-18.
Landon is cautious but optimistic about having people back in the recently renovated building by next year. And while the entire staff are eager to have artists, students, and audiences back in the space, the proposed format would allow for that to happen when it is safe and viable to do so. The entire season is committed to being streamed and posted on YouTube, but will still be staged with a live audience in mind. Decisions on in-person performances and classes will be based on CDC guidelines and the advice of government officials.
The annual budget of the theatre has been slashed dramatically, and even in the current format, the theatre will need to raise $200,000 through ticket sales, classes, and fundraising efforts during the fiscal year. It’s a daunting task, but Landon is confident that the community will support the theatre through this challenge. “Theatre has survived plagues, wars, government coups, and stock market crashes. Even without audiences, it will survive Covid-19.”
Open Stage will provide a tiered Pay-What-You-Will ticketing system through their website that will enable audience members to donate to see a show if they are able. These donations can be singular, or patrons can choose to be a part of the “Inner Circle” gaining access to all performances, as well as special events for as low as ten dollars a month. All donations are tax deductible. For those that would like to access live and archived shows for free, they can watch on the Open Stage YouTube page at any time.
To donate, sign up for classes, and get tickets, go to Open Stage’s website, openstagehbg.com. Audiences can follow Open Stage on social media for updates on the schedule, and access to weekly free shows and entertainments. Those interested in becoming a Season Sponsor can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. To volunteer, or ask a question, email the staff at email@example.com.