This year was supposed to be the Burien Actors Theater’s 40th season, but plans were interrupted by the arrival of COVID-19 and the resulting shutdown by the government in March.
The theater was in the middle of their performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the production had to be cut short.
Nevertheless, “BAT cannot help itself and must do theater,” Artistic Director Eric Dickman said. In May, the theater unveiled what Dickman calls a Shelter-in-Place season, which featured performances recorded live on Zoom.
Five shows were produced in the first season: Hindle Wakes, Ripcord, The Letters, Zombie, and They Promised Her the Moon. Dickman said the shows were all “well-received by the audience,” leading to the second season being planned.
In the second season, there are another five plays: Kiss of the Spider Woman and Hay Fever in November, and For Better in December. Previously, Bold Grace, the Voyages of the Pirate O’Malley ran in September and Bauer in October.
Five more shows are being planned for a third season, to run from January to May 2021. Tickets are sold on a pay-what-you-can basis.
With this new theatrical medium, productions are more relaxed. Actors don’t need to memorize lines. Instead, they can freely read from their script, something that can’t happen onstage professionally.
“With full theater lights, sets, costumes, and props, there is not enough time to put many shows on stage in a year,” Dickman said. But with Zoom, which is more limited in production, there will be fifteen plays in the three Shelter-in-place seasons.
They do face challenges, though. Due to Zoom royalties, only one show, Hindle Wakes, was allowed to be recorded and posted to the BAT channel on YouTube.
Some equipment used to record each session can be unreliable and inconsistent as well, so the theater needs a grant to get more. “Theaters depend on donations and grants to cover such expenses, and BAT is no different,” Dickman said.
Zoom is also designed for business meetings, not performances. Actors have less mobility and must put in more effort to show their characters clearly interacting. There’s also more focus on their faces than onstage.
“We are working to overcome them and have improved quite a bit since our first Shelter-in-place Season,” Dickman said, adding that this medium of storytelling is “a mix of theater, film, a radio play, and a reading.
“Shows on Zoom are a unique experience. Nevertheless, quite entertaining and worth your time.”
Information about times and tickets can be found at the Burien Actors Theatre website, https://burienactorstheatre.org/shows/shelter-in-place-season-2020/shelter-in-place-season-2-2020.