Constable: Pandemic closes theaters, but suburban group's online show (and charity) go on
The pandemic can take the theater away from performers, but it can't take the theater out of those performers. A suburban group plans to broaden the stage, turn performances into a competition, and generate donations for a good cause.
The "Cabaret Games" premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday on Facebook as executive producer Dr. Holly Weis of Buffalo Grove brings together singers from local theater programs to compete head-to-head in online videos before a celebrity judge.
"I do this for the pure joy," says Weis, 36, who performed in plays and show choirs during her years at Glenbrook North High School before getting her medical degree from Rush University and becoming an ophthalmologist at Chicago Glaucoma Consultants in Glenview. She's performed in some community theater and is on the board of directors for the Highland Park Players. That theater group's production of "Pinkalicious, The Musical" closed just before the pandemic.
"I wanted to enlarge the stage by incorporating more theater groups. That's really the key. We needed a stage to perform on because all the theaters are closed," Weis says of her online format giving furloughed performers a virtual stage. "A lot of people are hurting. Not only is it a financial loss; they lost that spark of joy that the arts can bring you. They're missing that human element of what we want to do."
Having landed the role of Bea in the Theater Nebula production of "Something Rotten!" at the Cutting Hall Theater in Palatine, Rachel Carreras was ready for opening night in March.
"We got all the way to the final dress rehearsal, and then the pandemic hit," says Carreras, 30, who lives in Naperville and was an all-state performer in musical productions during her years at Neuqua Valley High School. An opera singer who got her degree from Illinois Wesleyan University in music and vocal performance, Carreras worked at Disney World for four years before returning to Illinois. She played the role of Ladybug in Big Noise Theatre's production of "James and the Giant Peach" in January at the Prairie Lakes Theater in Des Plaines.
In "Cabaret Games," Carreras belts out the pop tune "She Used to be Mine" from "Waitress."
"It's great just to be able to sing and perform," Carreras says, who adds that it is fulfilling "just having a deadline and working, and knowing that I do have that passion and drive."
Katherine Steele, whose YouTube channel has 216,000 subscribers, hosts the first episode, and Samantha Pauly, who starred in several productions at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire before becoming an original cast member for "Six" on Broadway, will judge the first competition.
"I saw the show twice when it was in Chicago," Carreras says of "Six," a musical about the wives of Henry the VIII. "I saw that she was the judge, and that's the coolest thing."
Other contestants for the first episode are Isabel Kaegi of the Highland Park Players, Collette Todd of Palatine's Music on Stage, and Kara Vombrack, representing Big Deal Productions and the Buffalo Grove Park District Performing Arts.
The first competition features contemporary songs. The remaining episodes on subsequent Sundays in July focus on classical, twisted (breaking gender roles), and songs of three-time Tony-winner Jason Robert Brown. Online voters select the songs in advance of the competition. And singers have to step outside their comfort zones.
"The stage and theater feel like home, so it was strange at first to sing a song in public," says Carreras, who filmed outside on the Naperville Riverwalk, where she posed for her senior class pictures during high school. "People walking by were staring. Sometimes people would clap. People were eating lunch, or eating ice cream. It was a challenge to get into character in a space that was so foreign to perform in."
The Facebook performances will feature a donate button so people can send money to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS charity, which helps provide essential services for people with HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
"It's a goodwill thing. It's something to get excited about. And it's a way to highlight performers," Weis says.
What do the winners get?
"Pride," Weis says. "You get lots of pride."