EDITOR’s NOTE: In these distressing times, we need the arts more than ever, but the pandemic has wreaked havoc with performance and exhibition schedules. Over the next several weeks, BAMirror writer George Basler will be reporting on how local arts organizations are “Coping with COVID.”
By George Basler
The Ti-Ahwaga Community Players in Owego are in their 62nd year of bringing live theater to the community. KNOW Theatre, now in its 27th year, is known for presenting provocative plays. Both are taking steps to survive in a time when the pandemic has ruled out live performances.
Tim Gleason acknowledges he was in “a state of shock” when COVID-19 closed the KNOW Theatre in March. He is not optimistic that the theater will be able to open for live performances until mid-June 2021 at the earliest.
But that does not mean KNOW has been idle during the lockdown, said the artistic director of downtown Binghamton theater. The company is not letting COVID-19 kill its annual Playwrights Festival, scheduled to begin the weekend before Thanksgiving.
This year the festival will be held virtually on Zoom, but otherwise will be similar to previous years. Annually, KNOW picks three pieces of artwork and asks playwrights to write short, one-act plays inspired by the pieces. Six plays — two for each artwork — are chosen to be performed.
KNOW received some 70 submissions for this year’s festival, despite the pandemic, Gleason said. The plays will be done as staged readings instead of full productions. Talkback sessions, which are part of the festival, also will take place over Zoom. The scheduled dates are Nov. 20-22 and Nov. 27-29 with two plays presented each date.
“We’ve made the selections and are starting to cast,” Gleason said. “Everything will be the same except we can’t gather in person.”
Also, since the summer, the KNOW Theatre Radio Players, under the direction of stage manager Duncan Lyle, have been producing audio plays. Three more are planned for this fall, Gleason said. They can be found on Anchor.fm., or listeners can search for “KNOW Theatre” on Spotify, Radio Public, Pocket Casts, Breaker, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts, according to KNOW’s website.
Besides this, KNOW is seriously looking at performing plays in its theater after the first of the year, Gleason said. The plays would be performed without live audiences, videotaped and then uploaded to a streaming service, such as ShowTix4U. KNOW would sell tickets through the platform.
The first effort would be a one-person play by Robert Patrick, author of Kennedy’s Children. Gleason has penciled himself in to play the character. “It’s a changing world as far as theater is concerned. Streaming is in the immediate future,” Gleason said.
But, Gleason emphasized, “If we cannot pull it off with the quality KNOW is known for, we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to put something up just to put something up.”
Ti-Ahwaga Community Players
The Ti-Ahwaga Community Players are surviving, but it has been a challenge, board President Diane Arbes said.
“We have some loyal folks in the community and a healthy turnover of sponsors and donors,” she said. But 90 percent of the company’s bills are paid through ticket sales– which have been non-existent since March.
Faced with this reality, members and the board have turned to technology to keep their theater alive. Part of this effort involves scheduling a virtual variety show as a fund-raising event. “Boogey Nights: A Scary Good Time!” will be filmed and streamed over Zoom at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 30-31). It features 13 actors, many of whom have performed in Ti-Ahwaga shows over the years.
The idea came from members and the board of directors who wanted to stay active and engaged with themselves, with the community and with theater patrons, the show’s director, Brian Flynn, said.
Putting on the production required Ti-Ahwaga to meet COVID guidelines set by the state, he emphasized. Cast members rehearsed in shifts to comply with these guidelines, and they limited the number of people on stage, or in the theater, at the same time.
Tickets at $15 can be purchased through PayPal or by credit card at Ti-Ahwaga’s website (http://www.tiahwaga.com). Ticket holders will be provided with Zoom instructions, if they need them, and a link to access the performance. NOTE: Payment must be submitted by no later than noon on Friday (Oct. 30).
The cast is excited and already discussing performing a virtual holiday show using the same format, Flynn said. Arbes is also hopeful about using the format to stream plays with small casts. Moreover, she has not given up on the idea that the COVID-19 situation could ease enough for Ti-Ahwaga to reopen its Owego playhouse this spring for two shows with audiences in attendance.
One show would be the play Clue, which would be mounted at the end of March and early April. The other would be a musical in June. One option could be bringing back Spamalot to finish a run that was cut short this past spring, Arbes said.
The Spamalot set is still up in the Owego playhouse, she said. In a sign of optimism, the company has not taken it down.
Coming next: COVID-era planning at the Endicott Performing Arts Center and the Goodwill Theater