How to Scratch Your Cincinnati Theater Itch During Quarantine

Our Cincinnati theaters are shuttered for the immediate future, but most have put things online to enable you to catch a show — safely

click to enlarge How to Scratch Your Cincinnati Theater Itch During Quarantine
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Our Cincinnati theaters are shuttered for the immediate future. The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Know Theatre have canceled the final productions of their 2019-2020 seasons; Ensemble Theatre has made some plans for deferring shows, which could mean waiting until next season.

In the meantime, most theaters have put things online to enable you to scratch your local theater itch — safely.

The Playhouse has assembled a 10-part video series, “Monologues of Hope,” written and performed by writers and actors from Greater Cincinnati, with one episode released weekly. The first of these, Hope, written by actor Jennifer Joplin and performed by actor Annie Fitzpatrick, is already available via the Playhouse’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and is on cincyplay.com. So is Fifty-Eight Cents by writer and actor Trey Tatum, performed by actor Jordan Trovillion

Upcoming monologues include: Bella Ciao by Playwright Joseph McDonough, performed by writer and actor Kevin Crowley; Hope Deconstructed by actor Torie Wiggins, performed by actor Ernaisja Curry; Our Diner by storyteller and Cincinnati Fringe Festival artist Paul Strickland, performed by actor Justin Baldwin; The Imitation Challenge by actor Darnell Pierre Benjamin, performed by Cincinnati Shakespeare actor Caitlin McWethy; Play for Our Time, by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music drama professor Brant Russell, performed by Cincinnati Shakespeare actor Barry Mulholland; An Ancient Prayer by theater artist Caroline Stine (performer TBD); and Love Gives by scenic designer Paul Shortt (performer TBD).

Ensemble Theatre’s D. Lynn Meyers told me that consideration was being given to reprising a set of five 10-minute plays around theme of “justice” that were produced in February. Respected playwright Joe McDonough was the advisor to a group of local writers: Isaiah Reaves, Derek Snow, Liz Coley, Torie Wiggins and Victoria Hawley. The one-night performance played to a full house. Meyers thought she might be able to reassemble the casts and record the pieces for online.

She also mentioned that the annual showcase for Ensemble’s apprentice acting company this year is slated to be another set of scripts by local playwrights, this time being works matching specific writers with individual actors to create short plays on the theme of "courage." These might be produced in video format for online distribution this summer. More to come. Keep an eye on ensemblecincinnati.org.

Ever feisty, Know Theatre's production of Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster (Feb. 28-March 21) was canceled in the midst of its run, but a video of the production was made available online via video-on-demand — an experiment that the company deemed “highly successful.” It could only be presented through March 20 because of negotiated rights. 

Nevertheless, the online success of Alabaster paved the way for Know’s “Know-to-Go” brand, using streaming filmed productions, audio plays and performance-based live streams of tabletop-role-playing games. Several past productions are available for streaming: Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum’s wildly imaginative Andy’s House of [blank] from 2015 can be viewed through April 25 (passes on sale through April 24); and the Appalachian ghost story, Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump (filmed in Know’s Underground bar in December 2016) is available through May (purchase your pass by May 8). 

Know, the Cincinnati Fringe Festival’s annual producer, has announced that the 2020 iteration of that popular event will happen in the announced time frame, May 29-June 13, but it will be “all-digital, totally only, 100% at-a-safe distance.” Performances will be streamed, there will be online art galleries and digital meet-ups — so everything will be accessible from home. It will be weird, but that’s the feature that Know is annually proud to boast, a festival that’s “Kinda Weird, Like You.” Look for details at cincyfringe.com.

Cancelations and Next Season Onstage

Several theaters had announced what they intended to produce starting in September when the 2020-2021 season would kick off. But the abrupt end of the 2019-2020 season has led to several changes.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company cut short its delightful production of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and canceled productions of Hamlet, Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will and Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday

Cincy Shakes’ 2020-2021 season was announced before the pandemic shutdown, so some quick changes have since been put in place. The 2019-2020 season was portrayed as the “Season of the Woman,” with an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Hamlet, featuring actor Sara Clark as the morose Danish prince, as centerpieces of the initiative. The company recently announced a revised 2020-2021 season, now opening with five weeks of Hamlet (Aug. 28-Sept. 26, 2020) with Clark still in one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles. The Austen show was selling well before its abrupt closing, so it will reopen to finish the coming season (June 4-July 3, 2021).

Here’s a trailer for the updated season.

Cincinnati Playhouse was in the midst of the zany, manic Destiny of Desire when the state of Ohio ordered large public gatherings to be discontinued. After negotiating with several professional unions and the holders of production permissions, the show — a send-up of Latin American telenovelas — was offered for online purchase through April 11.

The Rosenthal Shelterhouse productions of Anna Ziegler’s Actually and Becoming Dr. Ruth, as well as the mainstage presentation of an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, were announced as canceled. But more recently, Artistic Director Blake Robison and the Playhouse team have decided to move two of them to the next season. Murder on the Orient Express (August 29-Oct. 4) is now set to open the 2020-2021 season, replacing The Wizard of Oz on the Playhouse’s mainstage; Becoming Dr. Ruth (Sept. 12-Oct. 25) will begin the Shelterhouse stage season instead of Nia Vardalos’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, which has moved to later in the season (March 20-April 25, 2021), replacing the world premiere of Rooted by Deborah Zoe Laufer, which will be produced in a subsequent season.

At Ensemble Theatre, Meyers told me a few weeks ago that she hopes to bring back Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline, which closed after its well-received opening night performance. Given ongoing conversations about when social-distancing orders will be lifted, that sounds unlikely.

Photograph 51 might move to a later spring period. Susan Miller’s 20th-Century Blues (scheduled for May 30-June 27) is almost certain to be deferred to another season. Taking a wait-and-see approach to her coming season, which Meyers hopes will include a world premiere and a recent Pulitzer Prize winner, she needs to see how things unfold. She previously announced a few productions: Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings (Oct. 13-25) and the holiday musical Sleeping Beauty (Dec. 2-30).

Know Theatre’s season-ending Lasso of Truth by Carson Kreitzer was canceled, but Artistic Director Andrew Hungerford said the play inspired by Wonder Woman and her original inventor has “been on our radar for a few years, and we were all extremely excited to produce it. Our goal is to make space for it as we schedule our upcoming seasons." Know has yet to announce its 2020-2021 season. Watch for it at knowtheatre.com.

Cincinnati Landmark Productions operates both the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. Earlier this month it announced that the Covedale’s April production of All Shook Up has been replaced with Impossible Dream: Celebrating 100 Shows at the Covedale (tentatively set for May 14-June 7). The Incline, after being forced to cancel The Last Five Years, also announced that all performances of Newsies (April 22-May 17) have been canceled. No word yet on subsequent summer season productions at the Incline, which was set to offer A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (June 3-28), Jerry’s Girls (July 8-Aug. 2), and Carousel (Aug. 19-Sept. 13).

At the Carnegie Center in Covington, the spring production of End of the Rainbow (March 21-April 5) about Judy Garland was canceled.

I hope local theater is a priority in your life. If so, I urge you to consider purchasing a season subscription now for one or more of these companies — as a vote for the future. Our excellent local theaters need to know that they will have audiences again when show can be produced, and they need the funds in hand to make that happen.

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