As theater doors remain closed due to the pandemic, actors are creating new ways to articulate their art, from broadcasting past shows to exploring non-traditional ways to tread the boards.
At Trenton’s Open Book Theatre Company, Artistic Director Krista Schafer Ewbank and the theater’s board have continued to look for safe ways to offer a live theater experience, with “Driveway Theatre” being the result.
“Driveway Theatre,” which will offer 30 minutes of entertainment on personal pavement, allows the hosts to invite their friends, family and neighbors to enjoy safe, socially distanced and live outdoor entertainment.
“It’s a great way to gather with your friends and neighbors,” Ewbank said.
The two initial shows, which will be offered weekends through July 19, with weekdays possible upon request, include Emily Rosenbaum’s newly commissioned work, “The Complete Canon of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film (Abridged),” and “Off Book Away from Open Book,” featuring improvisation guided by theater professional Sean Paraventi.
“Live theater is what we do,” Ewbank said. “We’ve had to cancel two productions, and we’ve lost a lot of income.”
She said online theater does not provide the connection that audiences enjoy at a live performance.
“We started to think outside of the box about how we might still connect with our community and provide some much-needed joy,” Ewbank said.
She said the short, outdoor performances of “Driveway Theatre” work within state and federal guidelines to help protect people from contagion by controlling the number of people gathering and by providing room for chairs or blankets to be spread out, thus achieving social distancing.
“We started work on it knowing we may never get a chance to do it, depending on how the state began opening up,” Ewbank said. “When outdoor gatherings were permitted, we kicked our planning into high gear.”
She said “Driveway Theatre” works on any level outdoor surfaces to accommodate either of its two offerings.
“The Complete Canon of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film (Abridged)” is a fast-paced, two-person show in which the actors share their post-pandemic survival techniques, set against a backdrop of pop-culture post-apocalypse references.
“You don’t have to know any of the stories referenced to enjoy the show, but those who do will have extra fun spotting the references,” Ewbank said.
The show features OBTC regulars Jonathan Davidson and Annie Dilworth.
The second show, “Off Book Away from Open Book,” will feature two improv artists, who will take audience input and form it into improvised entertainment, with stories and songs, with a focus on fun.
“‘Driveway Theatre’ is a way for us to hire artists and hopefully recoup some of what we’ve lost,” Ewbank said.
She said there is a $100 fee to bring the performance to a Downriver driveway (with an additional fee beyond Downriver). The company will place a donation bucket and encourage attendees to donate.
“The fee just barely covers our costs to show up,” Ewbank said. “We’re hoping that audiences will enjoy the show and be generous, but we wanted to keep it affordable, too.”
She said hosts can forgo the donation budget by paying a $500 performance fee.
“We know people need something like this right now, and bringing these shows out into the community is one way we are fulfilling our mission,” Ewbank said. “Art is important, and can help us through these hard times.”