Photo by Matthew Levandoski/Bloomington Playwrights Project
Not everyone is binging on Netflix these days.
OK, nearly everyone with the means is binging on Netflix these days.
Theater geeks are embracing another streaming diversion: a wealth of shot-from-the-stage plays and musicals. And while some of these productions come from big-budget, high-profile producers, such as London’s National Theatre and Canada’s Stratford Festival, smaller theaters have also gotten into the act, releasing pre-lockdown production tapes.
The Indiana theater embracing the concept in the biggest way has been Bloomington Playwrights Project. The 40-plus-year-old new-play company has opened its vault to release 25 hit plays for the low, low price of “any donation.”
So what’s available?
A highlight is Greg Kalleres’s Apropos of Nothing, which may add the phrase “dating ironically” to your vocabulary. Featuring Bridget Haight, fast becoming one of Indy’s top actresses thanks to leading roles in Summit Performance’s Mary Jane and American Lives Theatre’s Gloria, it’s a relationship comedy sparked when a man admits that he’s smitten with his best friend’s wife … much to the chagrin of his girlfriend and everyone else in his orbit.
Star Wars obsessives may want to check into Stephen Massicotte’s The Jedi Handbook, a coming-of-age story about a self-described dork duo strongly influenced by Luke, Leia, and company. And audiences of a certain generation may recognize Nickelodeon’s Double Dare host, who is featured in the biographical play Everything in Its Place: The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, dealing with his TV niche fame as well as his struggles with OCD, cancer, and other challenges. And, yes, there’s audience participation in game-show segments.
The script for Everything in Its Place is by Alex Brightman, a name that theater lovers might recognize as the on-hiatus lead in Broadway’s Beetlejuice and the Tony-nominated lead in School of Rock. Brightman also co-wrote the dark murder musical Make Me Bad, also a BPP Flix offering. Another BPPer with Broadway cred, IU alum Nicole Parker (known from Mad-TV and Wicked), penned the book for the original musical Kissing Frogs, about a woman uncertain over her upcoming marriage.
Considering diving in? Be aware that since some of these performances were shot only for internal reference, you usually get a limited number of camera angles (sometimes “limited” meaning “one”). The sound quality isn’t always top-notch, and the acting is modulated for live performance, not for the cameras. Still, there are pleasures to be had in this worthwhile reach-out by an important and, outside of Bloomington, underappreciated professional company.
Here’s hoping it will be offering live productions again soon. And that these recordings spark adventurous patrons to expand their theatergoing horizons.
Me, I’m feeling guilty about only seeing three or four BPP offerings live. And for not sending them my own scripts for consideration