Burien Actors Theatre will be performing a live reading of The Letters by John W. Lowell to kick off its new Shelter-in-Place season.
“The Shelter-in-Place season came out of BAT's need to do theater,” said Artistic Director Eric Dickman. “BAT was in the midst of The Rocky Horror Show when theater venues were shut down in Washington.”
Their next show, A Good Farmer, was set to open in May, but has been delayed until June 12. There are still questions about whether that date will still be achievable with continued social distancing, Dickman said.
“BAT is waiting for guidance on social gatherings before it begins rehearsals for A Good Farmer and Hay Fever. It is possible BAT will be able to produce both shows. It is possible we can produce one. And it is possible both will be forced to be canceled,” he said. “We are in a wait-and-see pattern. Waiting, and not knowing, when plays would be back on stage is part of what drove the creation of the Shelter-in-place Season.”
“With one show stopped and no show opening on the horizon, BAT tried to sit politely at home. But that was too much. Looking for a way to still create theater, BAT turned to Zoom, a platform we had used for meetings, and for in-house readings. We decided to use Zoom to do public readings,” Dickman said.
“COVID-19 has also been financially devastating for BAT,” he said. “If you cannot produce theater, you cannot sell tickets. So, we put the need to do theater together with Zoom, and the need for a fundraiser. The Shelter-in-place Season was born.”
To participate in the Shelter-in-Place Season, BAT is asking for a donation for your “ticket” to join the show. The donation receipt will have the Zoom login and password, Dickman said.
“Times are difficult for everyone. So, BAT is asking for a donation of at least $1. But you can give as much as you are able,” he said. “The Shelter-in-place Season is a fundraiser for BAT and a chance for our ticket seller, Click4tix, to earn some much-needed income.”
They are looking to set up a $0 donation, but this is new territory for Click4tix too, and so far, that is not yet possible, Dickman said.
Five plays will be performed, with shows every other weekend. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Zoom meetings will not be recorded. If you don’t watch live, you won’t be able to watch later. Three of the five plays have been announced.
The first play will be read this weekend, Saturday, May 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
“The Letters, by John W. Lowell, is a psychological thriller. The Ministry Director calls Anna, a bureaucrat, into his office for a meeting. It is 1931 in the Soviet Union, and things are not what they seem. The meeting becomes a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse in which being the last one to flinch may mean the difference between life and death. Based on Soviet efforts to edit composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s letters, this thriller is a vivid slice of paranoid life under Stalin,” Dickman said.
“BAT had the West Coast premiere of this show in 2011. It is still one of the most requested plays for BAT to revive.”
Zombie, by Bill Connington, is based off of Joyce Carol Oats’ novella of the same name. It will be read on Saturday, May 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 31, at 2 p.m..
“It is a terrifying drama written by Bill Connington and adapted from the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. A psychopath pedophile kidnaps boys and tries unsuccessfully to turn them into zombies with an ice pick. It is the thing of nightmares but does what theater does the best; it takes you to place you would otherwise never go. An intense one-act, Zombie, won the 2008 FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Solo Show,” Dickman said. “Zombie is suitable only for ages 16 and older due to violence and sexuality.”
Hindle Wakes, by Stanley Houghton, was written in 1912. The play will be read on Saturday, June 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 14 at 2 p.m..
“It is an interesting look at social mores 108 years ago. The center of the play is an unmarried young couple, a mill worker and the son of the mill owner, who take off for a weekend of fun,” Dickman said. “Despite their best efforts, their parents find out. What follows is much of what you expect. Reputations are soiled; marriage is on the horizon. It is a look back at where male-female relationships were 100 years ago. I am sure Hindle Wakes caused quite a scandal in 1912. Nevertheless, the play was reprinted eight times.
“But what makes this show shine is Fanny, the young woman. She was a woman ahead of her time. It leaves the question, In 100 years, times have changed in the relationships between men and women, but have they really?”
Two more plays will be performed on May 16 and 17, and on June 27 and 28.
“Six plays are vying for the two remaining slots in the Shelter-in-place Season,” Dickman said. “We are considering even more, but they would be second choices.”
Virtual, live theater is new for everyone, Dickman said.
“While BAT had gotten the rights to do live readings of plays before, we have found the authors are treating a live Zoom reading like a different kind of animal. I doubt they were ready for COVID-19's impact on live theater, and this is new ground,” he said. “Over time, securing the rights for live Zoom readings of plays will likely become commonplace, but for now, it is all new territory. It is taking time to catch up to COVID-19's effects. So, until we hear back, they remain to-be-announced.”
The plays were chosen by the artistic director with limited oversight, Dickman said.
“Typically, plays go through a fairly significant review process before they are selected for BAT's main stage. So, more than most plays, these offer insight into the mind of BAT's artistic director,” he said. “BAT wanted performances that you could not find streaming. Something that, like going to the theater, was intimate and told stories not often told. Yet, they had to be something with mass appeal and worthy of those Zooming in taking time to attend at a given date and time.”
Dickman said social distancing has changed all of the theatrical process.
“Rehearsals are very much like the traditional rehearsals for a reading. However, they are taking place on Zoom, with the actors and director safely separated. The Shelter-in-place Season is a first for BAT, and it is and will be a learning experience,” Dickman said. “However, we tested several platforms and found that for us, Zoom was the best. Sound effects and scene breaks are still being worked out, but we are confident the audience will be part of a very satisfying theatrical experience.”
For more information, and to purchase tickets, please go to https://www.burienactorstheatre.org