Usually at this time of the year, theater patrons are marking their calendars with shows they want to see and getting ready for an avalanche of new productions. COVID-19, unfortunately, has made in-person theatergoing impossible. Broadway has just announced that it is closed until early summer of 2021, and local theater companies have no idea when they’ll be able to produce the way they used to. For those who are willing to go the streaming route, though, all is not lost.
Out Front Theatre Company, known for producing work with LGBTQ themes, has three online shows scheduled for the rest of the year. The company had planned a robust schedule for 2020, including the Mart Crowley classic “The Boys in the Band,” but has had to adapt to the times.
“When COVID first hit, we thought that the government would take a stronger and more aggressive stance,” says Paul Conroy, founder and producing artistic director of Out Front Theatre Company. “We were hopeful we were going to be able to do “The Boys in the Band” in August and optimistic that our season could start in October. But I think because of a lot of inaction and irresponsibility on a great amount of the populace not just in Georgia, not just in our country — that is just not possible. We made the decision in July. Once we saw that Atlanta Pride was not going to happen (in person) we said we were not going to do anything in person for the rest of the year.”
Instead, virtual theater is available. First up is this weekend’s “Diva: Live From Hell,” a musical — written by S.P. Monahan — starring Trevor Perry as Desmond Channing, president of his high school’s drama club and a staple as the lead in every production. Through an odd fate, Desmond finds himself in the Seventh Circle, a cabaret venue in Hell. It’s the first regional production after the musical’s New York bow. While Conroy calls the show “campy and fun,” it also deals with serious issues like bullying and high school angst.
Next up is November’s “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns,” written by Drew Droege. It follows the chaos that ensues just before a wedding in Palm Springs. The wedding invitation has been very specific that the titular attire should be avoided at the event, and this doesn’t sit well with at least one person. The comedy stars Blake Fountain of the company’s “Christmas with Crawfords.”
Rounding out the trio is the holiday offering, “The Santa Closet,” written by Jeffrey Solomon, in which a little boy asks Santa Claus for a doll for Christmas. The show examines notions and stereotypes of gender. The Out Front production will be the first with a female-identified person of color, who will take on 13 different characters.
Finding fare that can be streamed virtually with a one-person cast wasn’t easy. “Holiday shows are always hard because of the mission,” says Conroy. “This one was a needle in a haystack.” Conroy only found the show because a queer theater company in Virginia suggested it.
On other productions he has had to weigh what he thinks audiences will want to see and make sure that everything he presents isn’t from a gay male perspective.
Conroy is not really sure when audiences will be able and willing to return to live performances. “When the virus is behind us, I don’t think the first thing people are going to want to do is go see a show,” he says. “I think it will be go on vacation and visit family and be out and do stuff.” It may take a while and will happen in size increments, yet he looks forward to the time when all is back to normal, so he can present his long-planned version of “The Boys in the Band” — which Conroy held auditions for last year — and another postponed and bound to be popular show, Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy.”