Arizona Theatre Company has postponed its on-stage season until next year, but has filled the months until then with virtual theater.
“Though we aren’t coming back until January, our audience gets a full fall,” said Sean Daniels, ATC’s artistic director. “It’s never going to replace coming to the actual theater, but digital is a way to connect. Our goal is to get back to live theater.”
Arizona is battling a spike in the coronavirus, making gathering for plays unsafe. And the Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents actors and stage managers, won’t issue contracts for performances where the pandemic isn’t under control.
So while ATC, an Equity theater, hopes to come back in January, it all depends on the virus. Which is why the company isn’t putting firm dates on productions.
“We want to stay fluid,” said Daniels.
Until then, ATC is treating the virtual world as a sort of second stage, bringing new works and plays in progress to digital screens.
Among the virtual productions slated for the year are Lauren Gunderson’s “The Heath,” a play with music that premiered last year. Gunderson, who also wrote “Silent Sky,” which ATC produced last season, is one of the most-produced playwrights in the country. Also slated: “Vivian’s Music: 1969,” by Tucsonan Monica Bauer; the in-the-making “Maverick: The John McCain Project;” “Slow Food,” by Wendy MacLeod; a mariachi-musical-in the writing process, “Somewhere Over the Border” by Brian Quijada, and “Coronalogues,” created by ATC’s new Associate Artistic Director Chanel Bragg.
Some of the plays, such as the mariachi musical and “Maverick” are in development and will be read, while others will have full, albeit virtual, productions.
With the readings of the plays in development, audiences will get a rare glimpse into the creative process. Other plays will provide exposure to new and national playwrights.
“It’s a way for audiences to fall in love with playwrights,” said Daniels.
“Online has become our second stage and a place where we can support plays without pressure.”
The full on-stage season is slated to run from January through December. On the boards are “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend,” written by Charissa Bertels, Christian Duhamel and Ed Bell; “Pru Payne” by Steven Drukman, and “Nina Simone: Four Women,” by Christina Ham. Planned for the summer are “Women in Jeopardy!” by Wendy MacLeod and Christopher Oscar Peña’s “How to Make an American Son.”
The fall lineup includes “The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew Lopez and “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” by Gunderson.
The slow down in producing has allowed ATC to do some important catch-up.
“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that all the changes we wanted to make over four or five years we did in two months,” said Daniels.
That includes bumping up the organization’s digital expertise, a thinner staff and paying down the $2 million accumulated debt.
“Since we aren’t in production, we’ve had a chance to look at the internal structure and we’ve fast-tracked plans to build the infrastructure of the company,” says Geri Wright, ATC’s managing director.
The budget this fiscal year is $5.5 million, down $3 million from last year. Much of the staff is furloughed right now, and the number of employees has been trimmed down. New financial structures and processes will boost the company’s efficiency, and the paying down of the debt is now a budgeted item.
“We are looking at how to structurally reinforce the company,” said Wright. “We really tried to take advantage of the moment.”
Kathleen Allen has written about the arts in Tucson for more than two decades.