Pandemic spurs Abbey Theater of Dublin to present virtual performances

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic might have thrown a wrench into plans for group gatherings, but Joe Bishara, theater supervisor for the Abbey Theater of Dublin, said he was not about to let a pandemic shut down his stage.

The Abbey Theater on May 22 kicked off its virtual theater project with the premiere of aptly titled "The Show Must Go Online," featuring 21 youth artists.

A handful of other online performances followed, including "Scenes from a Quarantine" and "Wellness Check."

Now the latest virtual show for the theater, in the Dublin Community Recreation Center at 5600 Post Road, will premiere Friday, Sept. 18.

"Super Happy Awesome News: A Virtual Musical" will debut at 7 p.m. on the city of Dublin Facebook page. The performances will later be available to stream via the theater group's website and YouTube page.

The show focuses on the trials of two siblings to launch "good news" networks and battle it out for the honor of happiest news show.

All productions featuring youth artists have been virtual, with rehearsals done via video chat, Bishara said. "The Show Must Go Online" was recorded at youths' homes. "Wellness Check" featured three cast members chatting over Zoom.

"It was meant to be done that way," Bishara said.

"Scenes from a Quarantine" also featured scenes via online chatting, as well as prerecorded monologues, Bishara said, describing the production as a "pooh-pooh platter" of all the ways one can act virtually.

Although Bishara had to revamp the method for staging his youth productions, the pandemic also created a learning curve for actors.

Elyse Janikan, 13, had been in three Abbey Theater productions pre-pandemic and since then has participated in "The Show Must Go Online," "Scenes from a Quarantine" and now "Super Happy Awesome News."

To learn how to approach recording an audition reel for musicals, the Dublin Grizzell Middle School eighth-grader grader said she turned to a virtual Contemporary American Theater Company course in which she was able to speak with Broadway stars. The course boosted her knowledge, she said, and gave her confidence.

When she recorded her audition reel for "The Show Must Go Online," she ended up recording herself singing and accompanying herself on piano, she said.

Janikan also found rehearsing online for the virtual productions to be a good experience.

She and other cast members met with Bishara via Google Meet and took turns rehearsing their parts.

"He's a really good innovator," Janikan said of Bishara.

Janikan's mother, Kristen, recorded her parts for the productions.

For "Super Happy Awesome News," Janikan performed in the family room, with the show's logo projected onto the TV. She sat at a table with a microphone to look the part of a newscaster.

Although Bishara found a plethora of youth productions written for the pandemic, he didn't have to pivot from his original plan for his shows involving adults because he had already planned shows with smaller casts.

Such productions as "Mary Regina: The Life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots," which the Abbey Theater premiered July 31, were planned as one-actor shows. This also enabled the actors to rehearse in person with Bishara.

Delivering a recorded performance of a one-person show is also easier than doing so with a multi-person performance, Bishara said.

Capturing the essence of multiple people onstage in a recording is difficult because the viewer's focus is being dictated by the camera, Bishara said.

In a live performance, the viewer is able to look at different people at any moment, he said.

"You have that freedom," he said.

Re-creating the experience of seeing a monologue, Bishara said, is much easier.

Although the youth programming has been free to stream online, shows that feature adults require payment to view online, Bishara said.

"The Sissy Chronicles," a one-man show available to stream online beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17, is $15 to watch.

Another one-man show, "Aliens, 3 Miles, Turn Left," will be available at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 with a cost of $5 to stream.

Bishara said he wanted to find a similar price point for viewers who might be renting movies online for a similar price point.

He said his online shows, free or for charge, have found an audience. Abbey Theater's virtual performances have thus far had more than 30,000 streams, he said.

To view Abbey Theater's virtual theater performances and to see a list of scheduled shows, go to dublinohiousa.gov/abbey-theater.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah