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Raleigh's Theatre Scene Rallies to Give Support and Create New Art in the Time of COVID-19

April 18, 2020 - Raleigh, NC:


Coping with crisisIn the uncharted landscape of COVID-19, the big story lies with infection curves, school buildings closed, and businesses shuttered as North Carolina rises to the challenge of keeping citizens safe and supporting the inimitable work of our medical and healthcare providers. Still, a small voice has risen up, the voice of the local performing arts. Raleigh alone serves as home to over half a dozen companies, all which rely significantly on ticket sales as their bread and butter. While the small, but mighty, voice of this collective could be, justifiably, begging for financial support, it is instead crying out, "We are still here, and we are here for all of you." Here's how Raleigh's impressive coterie of performing artists is giving back to their community during a global pandemic.

Collaboration and Visibility

Founder and co-artistic director of Honest Pint Theatre Company, David Henderson, said in his response to my inquiry, "local artists deserve to be seen and heard." When the stages that vault so many of our aspiring talent into the limelight are dark, many companies are taking to social media to keep these artists both seen and heard. Honest Pint, along with many others, teamed up with RDU on Stage to produce a series of interviews – one-on-one conversations between artists, producers, directors, and more from all around the Triangle – shining a light on what companies have in the works during these unprecedented times. (RDU on Stage also hosts live chats with local artists, so follow their page to get involved!) In the same vein, Theatre Raleigh, Burning Coal Theatre Company, and the Women's Theatre Festival have taken up the virtual gauntlet to highlight the works of locally based artists. In their "Living Room, LIVE!" initiative, Theatre Raleigh's producing artistic director, Lauren Kennedy Brady, hosts an "interview and concert experience" with big talent based out of Raleigh, some with Broadway credits. Recent guests have included Melvin Gray, Jr., John Arthur Greene, and Gerard Williams. Find out when the next Living Room, LIVE! Installment airs by following Theatre Raleigh's Facebook events.

The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT) has joined the social media storm with more emphasis on the "concert" than the "interview" experience. In their regular installments of "Sing for NRACT," which can be accessed, you guessed it, on Facebook, local artists live stream mini concerts while contributing any donations from viewers to support NRACT.

Burning Coal has titled their online conversations "Interviews from the Front," in which Artistic Director Jerome Davis hosts theatre leaders from around the Triangle, including Lauren Kennedy Brady and David Henderson mentioned above, to discuss the impact from and response to COVID 19. You can follow those interviews on Burning Coal's Facebook, as well.

Parents looking for entertainment for their kids will be glad to hear Aggregate Theatre Company has developed a new family audio drama series especially for this time of quarantine. Stuck Stories follows the journey of two siblings who become trapped in their mountain house after an avalanche, putting the main characters in the same position as the listener: stuck at home. Each episode also includes instructions for an at-home activity families can do to pass the time after the episode ends. The first two episodes of this five-part series are out already, with new episodes to be released each Wednesday on the company's website and Facebook page.

The Women's Theatre Festival expands on interviews between artists in their initiative "not just fill some of the void the cancelations have caused but to also create a new space where the arts can grow" with the Virtual Plays Club. In addition to interviews with artists and playwrights, the Virtual Plays Club also provides a platform for live readings of old and new plays, including the upcoming results of the Triangle Bake Off – yet another opportunity for sharing creativity without physical proximity. The deadline for submissions closed April 5, but tune in to WTF's Virtual Play Club on April 20 for announcements regarding the event and on May 2 to hear selected plays virtually performed! WTF's inclusion of performance offerings brings us to the next variation in local theatre's show of community support.

Giving Art and Art that Gives

In the wake of a tidal wave of rescheduled live performances (full list with links below), many companies have utilized virtual platforms to ensure their performing arts live on. (Theatre in the Park keeps their Facebook page up to date with national and global theatre companies that do this as well. The global theatre community response is another story for another day. Stay tuned!) While WTF streams readings of their featured plays on twitch TV regularly, Burning Coal has adapted for opportunities to take in stage productions on Twitch TV as well. Every Friday you can tune in to the premiere stream of a previous Burning Coal production on the company website. The video remains available for the following week until a new production airs the next Friday. Performance streams are scheduled as follow:

  • Peter Pan & Wendy, adapted from JM Barrie, directed by Lillian White: through April 23
  • Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare, directed by Emily Ranii: April 24-30
  • The Greeks, adapted by Ian Finley and Alex Tobey from Sophocles: May 1-7

The Justice Theatre Project has undertaken a unique virtual promotion strategy for their postponed production 12 Angry Jurors. In addition to a webinar regarding the production and online access to the film version of 12 Angry Men (conducted April 17), JTP also plans to present an online filming of Artistic Director Jerry Sipp's one-man show Shadows, to replace the previously scheduled musical Of Thee I Sing. Shadows explores the many letters penned by Robert Louis Stevenson, a significant contributor to literary history as novelist to 10 full works (including Treasure Island) and a handful of short stories in his brief career as he battled tuberculosis, which eventually claimed his life at the young age of 44. Sipp's production will be professionally filmed and made accessible to season subscribers for free. Non-subscribers may access the film for a donation to the company.

North Carolina Theatre is also providing smaller-scale performances specifically for their patrons in their "Quarantunes" project. On a larger scale, NCT also plans to extend their Share the Stars initiative to invite 1,000 local medical and healthcare professionals to attend their October production of The Sound of Music as a show of appreciation for their hard work and sacrifices during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. While NCT plans to give back with live performances when the time comes, some of their company is already contributing to pandemic efforts right now. Local costumer Denise Schumaker has been working with local volunteers out of NCT's costume shop to create masks for donation to local healthcare professionals and volunteer efforts.

Raleigh Little Theatre has also answered the call for more personal protective equipment, making their costume shop available to volunteers to sew facial masks for donation. With approximately 20 volunteers making masks, RLT has been able to provide them to senior care facilities, children's hospitals, and even to Ft. Bragg for service members and their families. (Their Facebook page invites those who would like to help or donate to this cause to contact Associate Costume Director Jeremy Clos at jeremy@raleighlittletheatre.org.) Besides giving back directly to the efforts of medical and healthcare providers, many local companies are giving back to the community in our final variation of support.

Art Education

Virtual and remote learning is a sign of the times these days, and Theatre Raleigh is leading the charge in the Raleigh arts community. TR provides weekly virtual workshops in voice or dance, weekly virtual master classes with Broadway professionals, and, for those who prefer to pre-record a home performance, TR has offered several social media challenges to showcase talent in the community on their Facebook page. Their "Stay In, Sing Out" showcase brought in a slew of local vocalists. If you missed out on that, there's still time to enter in their virtual talent show on Facebook. For full details on their virtual arts opportunities, check out Theatre Raleigh's virtual content page.

Despite postponing their three spring productions, Raleigh Little Theatre has adapted their extensive theatre education program by providing both online youth classes as well as adult classes. If you're looking for virtual workshops for no charge (though you can always consider donating to the company in lieu of a workshop fee), check out Burning Coal's Facebook page. Their first free virtual workshop went live April 13, featuring playwright Ian Finley, and hopefully there will be more to come.

Although the time has passed to participate, Pure Life Theatre's early community contribution should not go without mention. Their "Arts and Eats Program" in March offered two weeks of full-day arts programming with meals included for Wake County students whose meals and security were at risk when schools closed due to COVID-19. While their regularly scheduled children's camp has been cancelled for June, Pure Life plans to open their August camp to the registrants that would have been served in June. The camp runs for three weeks in August and participants will also have the opportunity to perform at the African American Cultural Festival in September.

If you've stuck with this rather lengthy review of the extensive efforts put in by your local theatre groups this far, you're probably wondering how in the world can you give back to these silent heroes of the arts. Luckily, there are a lot of ways you can give back! Buy tickets to rescheduled shows, donate the cost of your ticket for cancelled shows, or become a sponsor using any of the links below.

Stay tuned to Honest Pint's website for ticket sales for their upcoming Small Mouth Sounds, rescheduled for late August/early September.

Find out when NRACT has rescheduled their shows here and buy tickets here.

Although Theatre Raleigh's Bud, Not Buddy has unfortunately been cancelled, the company suggests donating the cost of your ticket instead of requesting a refund.

Get tickets to Burning Coal's 2020-2021 season here.

Stay up-to-date with the Women's Theatre Festival's scheduled production of Freakshow and other events on their website.

Consider donating the cost of your ticket to Theatre in the Park's postponed Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and stay tuned for new dates.

Stay tuned to Raleigh Little Theatre's COVID-19 updates for information on their rescheduled performances of A Raisin in the Sun, Jungle Book, and Divas. To help now, donate, volunteer, or become a member.

Keep or purchase tickets for the remainder of North Carolina Theatre's 2019-2020 rescheduled season here. Or, to help now, make a donation that counts twice! In a tremendous show of support, Duke Energy Foundation has committed to matching donations to NCT up to $30,000. Donations currently amount to around $21,000, so anything you can contribute will be greatly appreciated.

Keep or purchase tickets for Pure Life Theatre's production of Purlie, rescheduled for August 6-23.

In times of quarantine and social distancing, we turn to artists to keep us entertained, challenged, and sustained. As your local artists adapt and strive to create art in new ways, consider any of these ways to give back and keep art alive.