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Playwrights are adapting to the change of scenery

The theater company Liars & Believers has been producing new online programming during the pandemic, including a comedic "Pyramus and Thisbe."
The theater company Liars & Believers has been producing new online programming during the pandemic, including a comedic "Pyramus and Thisbe."

Shuttered theaters don’t stop playwrights from writing. Quarantine has simply made them more creative, says Joe Antoun, founder and artistic director of Centastage, which produces local playwrights. Antoun is also the longtime leader of Write On!, a group of playwrights who gather — now virtually — to share works in progress.

“Our writers have become prolific,” says Antoun. “The themes seem to focus on reunification and forgiveness, which reflects what time in quarantine is allowing.”

Some are figuring out how to adapt work they’ve already created to meet this unprecedented moment.

Playwright John Minigan says he’s had trouble generating new material. Instead, he’s been revising pieces that can be performed in a new way. Minigan is a Mass Cultural Council artist fellow in dramatic writing, an Elliot Norton nominee for “Noir Hamlet,” and a Clauder Competition and New American Voices winner for “The Queen of Sad Mischance."

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“Some theaters are calling for scripts that are specifically written to be performed in an online format,” Minigan says. A theater in Chicago already presented Minigan’s “Rising Sophomore,” while Taphouse Theatre’s Shelter in Place Festival, based in Texas, will present it this weekend.

“I originally wrote ‘Rising Sophomore’ as a monologue, but it’s now a two-character play that takes place on FaceTime,” Minigan says. “The idea is that while quarantined, a bully has a chance to reconsider his actions, and reaches out to his victim. They talk through it together.”

Playwright Greg Lam is home caring for his 8-year-old daughter while his wife, a geriatrician, is working, but he says focusing on short plays can sharpen the drama, and that a new medium encourages playwrights and directors to be creative.

“I wrote a 10-minute, sci-fi play that was accepted in the Boston Theater Marathon,” says Lam of “Interventions,” which can be seen April 20 using the Zoom app. “In rehearsal, the director suggested putting a tissue over the camera to make it look like someone appeared out of thin air and is playing with Zoom backgrounds to help set the scene.” (The Boston Theater Marathon: Special Zoom Edition continues every day at noon through May 17 — go to www.bu.edu/bpt/2020 — with donations going to the Boston Theater Benevolent Fund.)

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Lam is also working with the theater company Liars & Believers to create animation for one of his short plays. In the weeks since the coronavirus outbreak forced people apart, the Liars & Believers website and Facebook page have become meccas for a wide variety of art.

“It was so scary when things shut down. Everything we do as a company is collaborative," says Jason Slavick, founder and artistic director of Liars & Believers. "And then I remembered that as artists, we have the capacity to heal. We’re not first responders, but we can support the people who are doing the right thing by staying home and lighten their lives.”

Liars & Believers’ first entry was a radio play called “The Huns,” in which each actor recorded his or her part separately. Slavick then edited them together.

The website (www.liarsandbelievers.com) is now hosting music: a performance by Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, a song by John J King, some children’s programming (“Cozy Corner”), and a hilarious production of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the play within a play from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Future performances will include Anton Chekhov’s short play “The Bear,” a play called “Ted and Marie,” and the Shakespeare monologue “The Seven Ages of Man,” performed by an array of actors.

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ArtsEmerson streams past shows

ArtsEmerson is now streaming performances it had previously presented onstage in a series called “Together Apart: Explore New Worlds From Your Home.” The following shows will be available for free at TogetherApartAE.com (registration is requested): “Sequence 8” (brilliantly choreographed acrobatics from Montreal’s The 7 Fingers), available through April 26, including a conversation with Gypsy Snider, one of the company’s founders, on April 23; “Torrey Pines” (Clyde Petersen’s coming-of-age tale told through animation and an original ’90s pop-rock score), April 27-May 10, with a conversation with Petersen on May 7; “See You Yesterday” (Global Arts Corps, featuring 19 Cambodian performers who use acrobatics and circus arts to tell the painful story of the Khmer Rouge), May 11-24, with a conversation with members of Global Arts Corps May 21. In addition, ArtsEmerson artistic director David Dower and executive director David C. Howse will host town halls April 17 (noon) and May 1 (6 p.m.) to hear from audiences and learn “how an arts organization can be of service at this time.”

Here comes the ‘Bride’

This week, Apollinaire at Home continues with a reading of the film script of “All About Eve” on April 17 and “The Princess Bride” on April 18. Join in and be a reader or just a listener, at www.apollinairetheatrecompany.com.

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