Long Beach theatres plan live shows in 2021– with fingers crossed

Streaming productions will continue for some local venues, while others remain shut.

Since LA County health orders forced Long Beach theatres to go dark in March 2020 due to the pandemic, some local venues have resorted to offering recorded shows for streaming, earning what they can through fees or donations.

The Long Beach Shakespeare Company and Long Beach Playhouse will continue streaming into 2021, while International City Theatre, Long Beach Opera and Musical Theatre West are planning live shows as soon as February, hoping restrictions will soon ease.

Cal Rep, the Found Theatre and the Garage Theatre remain at least temporarily shut. All venues have taken financial hits, whether streaming shows or not.

“Like you, we have spent the majority of this year barely holding on, just trying to figure out what happens next,” The Garage Theatre has posted on its site. “Being unable to produce anything for an entire year has left us running on empty– emotionally, physically, and financially.”

Long Beach Shakespeare Company

Image via The Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Instagram.

The Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC), housed in the Helen Borgers Theatre at 4250 Atlantic Ave., is the only local venue that was able to stream most of its planned 2020 productions, charging $25 to $35 per household for unlimited viewings over a month.

Producer Dana Leach credits the theatre’s mostly volunteer actors, technicians and designers for allowing LBSC to let its shows go on, albeit for less ticket sales.

“I’m very proud of how everyone at LBSC adapted, had great flexibility, and ‘we can do this’ spirit in 2020,” Leach told the Signal Tribune. “We have learned so much and tried new things. I feel we will be a stronger and more creative company as we continue through 2021.”

LBSC will continue streaming into 2021, beginning with a streaming radio-play version of “The Swiss Family Robinson,” available through Jan. 30, followed by a fully-staged production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” starting at the end of February.

“If things open up and we can perform to 50 % capacity, we will,” Leach said. “We continue to accept any donations to help us pay our rent. We have reached $9,300 of our $20,000 [donation] goal as of today.”

LBSC’s planned 2021 season includes three fully-staged productions and nine radio plays, including three in October for its Halloween season. It’s also planning a staged Christmas show in December with puppets.

A grant from the RuMBa Foundation– a Long Beach-based organization promoting arts for students– has allowed LBSC to build a library of its recorded 2020 productions for educators that it hopes to add to in 2021, Leach said. Recordings include study guides with writing prompts, and some include a lecture by Artistic Director Brando Cutts.

“We hope that this will give those schools that have visited us in the past a chance to still introduce their students to classic works and theatre virtually until they can come back and see us in person,” Leach said. “The education packages start at $50 for a class of 40 students. If schools cannot afford it, we will find a donor to help cover the cost.”

Long Beach Playhouse

A screenshot from Act I of Long Beach Playhouse’s streaming version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It . From left: Isaac Ybarra (Orlando) and Miguel Torres Cruz (Adam and Touchstone)

The Long Beach Playhouse (LBPH), at 5021 E. Anaheim St., will also continue to stream productions in 2021. Both of its 2020 online productions– “As You Like It” and a series called “Zoom’s Fairy Tales”– will continue streaming through June.

In addition, LBPH’s ongoing “Director’s Choice Online Scene Festival” (DCOSF) allows directors to record new dramatic works, or those in the public domain, to stream through LBPH’s site for patron donations.

Madison Mooney, LBPH executive director, told the Signal Tribune that “Zoom’s Fairy Tales” began as a DCOSF production before becoming an ongoing series of episodes by Sarah Hoeven and LBPH Board Member Austin James, with more episodes in the works for 2021.

To supplement donations from streaming productions, Mooney and Artistic Director Sean Gray will host LBPH’s annual “Staff & Friends Cabaret Fundraiser” in February in its upstairs Studio Theatre, though online this year.

“I’ll be emceeing as usual, but I won’t be able to hear the groans from the audience after my terrible jokes,” Mooney joked.

Mooney also said LBPH’s annual “New Works Festival” (NWF) will be online this year over two weekends in March, featuring winning scripts from both 2020 and 2021. A Port of Long Beach grant will allow the NWF to be free for viewers.

“We had first pushed back the NWF in 2020 thinking we could host it in person later in the year,” Mooney said. “Obviously, that was not the case.”

LBPH is also beginning a new online production to premiere in summer 2021. “Hopefully we can have an in-person full production at the Playhouse in the fall,” Mooney said. “Fingers crossed.”

International City Theatre

Image via International City Theater’s Instagram

International City Theatre (ICT), located in the Beverly O’Neill Theatre at 330 East Seaside Way, is scheduling live staged productions in 2021, beginning with Yasmina Reza’s “Art” from February 17 to March 7, though it will make adjustments as necessary.

“We continue to be hopeful as we continue to monitor the situation along with our State and City leaders,” Artistic Director caryn desai [sic] states on ICT’s site. “We are looking at all precautions to ensure your safety and wellbeing once we are operational, including social distancing in seating and exits/entrances, sanitizers, encouraging masks, etc.”

ICT is also planning four other staged productions: Wendy McLeod’s “Slow Food” in May, Matthew Lopez’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride” in June, Wendy Graf’s “Closely Related Keys” from Aug. 25-Sept. 12 and the musical “Blues in the Night” from Oct. 20-Nov. 7.

ICT had to cancel two out of three planned shows in 2020 after “The Andrews Brothers” closed on March 8.

Clockwise from top left: Phillip J. Lewis (Clifford Lewis), Ed F. Martin (Bill Bernbach), Matthew Floyd Miller (Aaron Ehrlich), Erin Anne Williams (Louise Brown) and Alex Dabestani (Sid Myers) in International City Theatre’s “Daisy”.
Photos by Mike Bradecich

It offered Sean Devine’s “ Daisy ” as a streaming production in October rather than canceling because desai thought it important for audiences to experience the political play during the 2020 election year, even online.

“This was a play that had so much to say, and was so relevant right now,” she had told the Signal Tribune. “I wanted to tell this story.”

Long Beach Opera

Image via Long Beach Opera’s Instagram

Long Beach Opera (LBO) is also pushing ahead with four live productions in 2021.

“Hope and creativity are more important now than ever before, and as such, LBO plans to move forward with our planned performances, but also to adapt to whatever environment exists [in 2021],” Executive Director Jenny Rivera said in a statement. “Our productions have already reframed opera into parking lots, train stations, swimming pools, automobiles and city streets during the past four decades.”

LBO will begin its season with Philip Glass’s “ Les Enfants Terribles” at the end of March at the Beverly O’Neill Theatre and Peter Maxwell Davies’s “The Lighthouse” at the Aquarium of the Pacific in May– a production it had originally planned for March 2020.

LBO had postponed then canceled its 2020 productions after “King Arthur” in January, but offered an online “2020 Songbook” of new works in November to help raise funds for its artists.

“Artists must continue to create, plan, dream and imagine all the creative scenarios that will once again allow audiences and artists to come together,” Rivera said.

Musical Theatre West

Image via Musical Theater West’s Instagram

Musical Theatre West (MTW), which performs in the Carpenter Center on CSULB’s campus, is currently scheduling only two live musicals in 2021– “Grease” in July and “Damn Yankees” in October.

It is planning four in 2022: “An American in Paris,” “Cinderella,” “Mame” and “Treasure Island”– the latter two of which it had originally scheduled for 2020 but had to postpone.

Like other local venues, MTW has relied on patron support and donations to keep it afloat.

“Words could never express the gratitude I feel for the tremendous outpouring of support we have received during the past nine months,” Executive Director Paul Garman said on social media, echoing the stated sentiments of other local theatres. “Our patrons and donors are our greatest treasure, along with a dedicated staff and phenomenal performers. We truly have so much to be grateful for, even in these trying times.”

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