Theater companies turn to streaming for Pride Month offerings
The global coronavirus has forced many Pride month activities to be canceled or re-imagined -- and that's true of two Chicago theater companies dedicated to telling LGBTQ stories.
Pride Films and Plays has been producing "Pride in Place" play readings online via Zoom since April 16. Artists there started with Terrence McNally's drama "Mothers and Sons" as a way to pay tribute to the playwright, who died of COVID-19 on March 24.
"We did not realize how many people we would be reaching with these readings," said David Zak, a Lisle native and the executive director of Pride Films and Plays.
Pride Films and Plays' next two readings were chosen for their timeliness and to capitalize on the limitations -- and benefits -- of Zoom.
Jonathan Tolins' "The Last Sunday in June" is set for Sunday, June 28, the day of Chicago's canceled Pride Parade. Tolins' 2003 off-Broadway comedy has been jokingly dubbed an "anti-gay gay play" by some critics, since it takes a harsh look at a group of friends who gather in an apartment overlooking New York's Pride Parade.
Brad Fraser's "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love" is set for Thursday, July 1. Since this shocking 1989 Canadian drama involving a serial killer is full of monologues, Zak feels it should work well with video close-ups.
"I feel like it's a course in 'Queer Theater 101,'" said Zak about the online readings. "And sometimes not everything is politically correct because the language has changed, but that's part of looking back at history."
For its online Pride offerings, About Face Theatre looks backward and forward with two recent works that have been adapted for home viewing.
Playwright and performer Scott Bradley's autobiographical drama "Packing" is now streaming through July 12. It's an unflinching look at Bradley facing both external and internal homophobia, and it captures LGBTQ history through his experiences.
Bradley and director Chay Yew worked with Starbelly Studios to film "Packing" with multiple cameras during its 2019 debut at Theater Wit. It was mainly for archival purposes, but also as a way to promote the show in the future for touring presenters. Thus, About Face Theatre had a show "in the can" for lockdown streaming.
"Scott Bradley and Chay Yew are such dynamic partners on this project," said About Face Theatre artistic director Megan Carney. "Their collaboration and shared vision really shine through and we're thrilled to get to share this show with a broader audience."
About Face Theatre has also been working with the young ensemble of its touring show "Power in Pride" to adapt it into a series of YouTube shorts. The show was set to play in multiple schools and park district venues until the lockdown happened.
"We wanted to make it available for the students who would have seen it on tour," Carney said. "They're now video performances that are joining and sparking conversations."
The national magazine Playbill has gotten into online play reading with a celebrity-tied Pride Plays series. On Friday, June 26, "Star Trek" star Zachary Quinto directs a reading of "The Men From the Boys" -- a sequel to "The Boys in the Band" by the recently deceased playwright Mart Crowley. And then on June 27, former American Theater Company artistic director Will Davis oversees a reading of MJ Kaufman's "Masculinity Max" with Chicago actors Kelli Simpkins and Theo Germain in the cast.
"I know this isn't a popular thing to say, but I don't think the Zoom events will completely go away when this is over," Zak said. He has received a lot of positive feedback on the online readings from suburban residents who are "seniors, or people with disabilities or who don't like crowds."
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Pride Films and Plays
Play reading: "The Last Sunday in June" by Jonathan Tolins
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28
Play reading: "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love" by Brad Fraser
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 1
Virtual ticket: $10; (773) 857-0222 or pridefilmsandplays.com
About Face Theatre
Streaming play: "Packing" by Scott Bradley
When: Various times through Sunday, July 12
Virtual ticket: $15; aboutfacetheatre.com
"Power in Pride at Home" shorts: youtube.com
Play reading: "The Men From the Boys" by Mart Crowley
When: 6 p.m. Friday, June 26
Play reading: "Masculine Max" by MJ Kaufman
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 27
Pride Spectacular concert
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28