NEW YORK – The coronavirus hasn't stopped the world's smallest theater.
“Theatre for One,” where one audience member sees one short play performed by a single actor in a portable theater, has now gone online.
“The experience is unique to Theatre for One. And in that sense, I think it's still a venue and a space. It’s a space designed specifically for this interaction, now designed online,” said two-time Tony-winning scenic designer Christine Jones, who conceived and leads the project.
In response to both the COVID-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement, the company will feature microplays all written and directed by Black, indigenous and women of color.
A selection of the tiny plays will be performed every Thursday for a six-week run starting later this month, with each actor delivering up to 15 performances for a single audience member in the 90 minute window. It will be free to the public.
The company has embraced a custom online virtual platform designed by cutting-edge OpenEndedGroup and says it retains the one-on-one intimacy that made the physical shows so powerful. Audience members and actors will even be able to look into the other's eyes at the same time, something impossible for platforms like Zoom.
"It feels really unique in how every element of it is distilled and concentrated and thought through in how to heighten this experience with audience and performer," said co-Artistic Director Jenny Koons.
The custom designed digital platform will allow audience members and actors to interact more closely than on traditional online platforms. There will even be a virtual lobby where audience members can gather and chat before and after performances.
Until now, Theatre for One has always been resistant to suggestions to transform into an online experience. “The sense of presence between the two people and the liveness of the moment, and that one-to-one contact, is so critical and essential a part of that experience that we just didn’t see that it could translate,” Jones said.
That thinking altered during the pandemic. Jones and Koons began discussing options for the company and how the notion of time was being altered and the concept of live was undergoing change. They came up with “Theatre for One: Here We Are.”
“We just started talking and we realized, ’If we could bring the things about Theatre for One with us — that the intimacy, the surprise, the specificity and curation of the venue and the experience — then maybe it’s something we would want to investigate.”
Performances will begin on Aug. 20 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET and will be held each subsequent Thursday through Sept. 24. Registration is free and open to the public starting Aug. 17.
The eight writers contributing new works — no more than 10 minutes each — are Jaclyn Backhaus, Lydia R. Diamond, Lynn Nottage, Stacey Rose, Nikkole Salter, DeLanna Studi, Regina Taylor and Carmelita Tropicana.
The directors include Tiffany Nichole Greene, Candis C. Jones, Rebecca Martinez, Taylor Reynolds and Tamilla Woodard. Mara Isaacs is the producer and the company is helped by Arts Brookfield with additional support from Thomas M. Neff.
It's just one way the theater community is trying to acknowledge the power of Black Lives Matter in theater, including the Black Theatre Coalition,While We Breathe, and Black Theater United. It's also another example of theater companies trying out new ways to present works during a pandemic.
Jones has been working on the project for years, ever since a magician left her spellbound at a wedding reception by pulling a card she’d selected out of his mouth.
The physical booth is not being scrapped entirely — Theatre for One plans to park in Ireland this fall. Post-pandemic the company intends to explore both in-person and virtual experiences.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits