As with other theaters around the country, downtown’s Urbanite Theatre has been shuttered as far as live performances, since March. But now it’s venturing back into live theater, albeit carefully and mostly in outdoor settings.
“We’re dividing the coming season into three different offerings,” says co-artistic director Brendan Ragan. The first is an outdoor reading series; the second an immersive experience limited to four patrons per viewing; and the third is a return of the Modern Works Festival, virtually.
“We’re excited about the outdoor series; it’s very different from anything we’ve done in our usual intimate inside space,” Ragan says. Audiences will be limited and distanced for the readings of the three plays in the series. None of the readings features more than three actors.
Those play readings include Ronan Noone’s Thirst (Jan. 14, 15 and 16 at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ downtown campus), set in the Tyrone family kitchen during Eugene O’Neill’s classic play Long Day’s Journey into Night. It explores the comedy and the tragedy of two Irish immigrant servant girls’ search for love and a sense of belonging in their new world. Next up: Emily Kaczmerak’s Sam & Lizzie, Feb. 13 at the Hermitage Artist Retreat and Feb. 14 at Selby Gardens downtown, which follows the friendship of two women over 20 years from their first playdate on 9/11. Closing out the reading series will be Christian St. Croix’s Monsters of the American Cinema, set for March 18, 19 and 20 at Selby’s Historic Spanish Point campus; this one centers on Remy Washington, who’s left as the owner of a drive-in movie theater and a caregiver to a teenage boy after his husband dies.
“All three are new works,” Ragan says. “Sam & Lizzie and Monsters of the American Cinema are both very early in their development.”
Something a bit different is the immersive Safe House, which Ragan both wrote and directs. Patrons will step inside the secretive safe house of a cybersecurity expert who’s gone into hiding with his wife and their company secrets. When she disappears, he turns to a stranger to help find her: you. The interactive walk-through experience does not feature traditional theater seating, and there are no live performers; the clues to your search are all digital. Each viewing runs approximately 30 minutes, so there will be multiple showings between which the theater will be sanitized. Safe House runs Feb. 26 through April 4.
The 2021 Modern Works Festival, presented by fellow Urbanite founder Summer Dawn Wallace, once more celebrates the voices of women in theater, presenting the works of three finalist playwrights chosen out of more than 300 scripts submitted. After virtual readings April 13-18, the playwrights will receive audience feedback, live over Zoom, and audiences who see all three readings will help decide the winner, who will take home a $3,000 honorarium. Ragan says the festival has the potential of adding more guests virtually, through workshops, talks and classes.
Overall, Ragan says, the planned programs “are not so much about ticket sales; our goal is to break even. This will get people out of their houses, be innovative for us, and get jobs out to folks while serving our mission. We hope to return to live, in-person theater in the fall.”
Ticket sales are underway, but due to reduced box office staffing, it’s better to email [email protected] than call the box office if you are interested in the coming season.