Last March, when Governor Mario Cuomo ordered the closing of all theatrical venues in New York as part of a plan to contain the spread of COVID-19, no one could have guessed that stages would remain dark for a year.
Yet all along, many theaters have continued to produce new plays, keeping the creative fires burning for both playwrights and their own companies. This month alone, four Westchester-based theater companies are among those that are presenting new original works. While there are plans currently afoot to open live theaters with restrictions, and Congress recently passed a COVID-19 relief bill that included $15 billion for “Save Our Stages,” these, for the time being, can be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of home.
Irvington Theater will stream four new plays as part of an Arts Incubator Short Play Fest from March 26-28.
“A short play festival was a way for us to address the desire that patrons have for new works as well as a wonderful way to celebrate emerging playwrights,” says Greg Allen, Irvington’s theater manager. The theater received more than two-dozen submissions for the festival.
Offerings will include Guilt is A Mother by Rachel Yong, The Yellow Wallpaper by Sam Norman and Eliza Randall, Black and Blue by Samuel Harps and The Waiting Room by Alli Hartley-Kong.
For several years, Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT) in Ossining has invited its members to tour Ossining Arts Council’s June exhibition to see if any of the artworks inspired an idea for a short play. The following Spring, after reviewing submissions, WCT performs six or seven of the resulting plays as part of what it calls a “Living Art” event.
Last year’s show was postponed, but on March 3, the seven new short plays selected in 2020 will be performed live, followed by rebroadcasts on March 13, 20 and 27.
“Sometimes the play has very little to do with the artwork, which is part of the fascination of it, seeing which direction the writers go off on,” says Alan Lutwin, president of WCT.
This year’s plays include The Bronze Lining by Tara Meddaugh, Glad Rags by Peter Andrews and A Pair of Pears by Schuyler Bishop. The 90-minute production features a docent-led tour of the art exhibition, which switches to a play when the docent comes to the artwork that inspired it.
“Theaters are doing interesting things and being creative however we can,” says Adam David Cohen, artistic director of Arc Stages in Pleasantville. Arc will present a taped performance of Oh, Manhattan! on March 5 and 6 with a live introduction by Cohen.
The play had its original run in 1998 at Upstairs at Rose’s Turn, a cabaret venue in the West Village. Cohen wrote the music for the show, with book by Kevin Laub, about two people who meet in a dog park and struggle to make a connection, unlike their dogs.
“Dogs don’t have the same problems that we do with connectivity,” Cohen says.
Cohen adjusted the play to accommodate the realities of the pandemic, adapting it for new audiences. Oh, Manhattan! was originally written for a male and female couple, but Cohen modified it to accommodate two female actors who live together. “I realized they could do a show without masks on,” he says.
Hudson Stage Company in Armonk will stage a virtual reading of a new hour-long play, The Parrot Trap by Brenda Withers, on March 20. It’s one in a series of short one-act play readings.
“Our directors and actors are all getting happy because they can collaborate again,” says Producer Denise Bessette. “People who are stuck at home, binge-watching TV—this would be a nice healthy appetizer for you.”
So despite the pandemic, theater companies are still presenting original works, giving playwrights an outlet for their creative energies and providing audiences with fresh stories to view.
“We’re all in this together,” says Bessette.
A version of this article first appeared in the March issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.