As the theater world continues to attempt to hold its head above water through the pandemic's unknowns, many artists are offering freebies and low-cost entertainment.
Take for example, "Couchical." Under the auspices of the Lincolnshire Marriott Theatre, the supremely talented duo of Chris and Jenna Coker continue to provide much delight in their short satires of beloved Broadway musicals. And for those of you who followed previous reviews, I'm happy to say their Act 2 of "Les Miserables" is out on YouTube, joining their "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sound of Music" episodes (bit.ly/2Vkx1Ln).
Closer to home, the Woodstock Opera House offers an Alfred Hitchcock movie marathon in October at $7 per ticket with only 50 seats sold per screening (www.woodstockoperahouse.com). And Crystal Lake's Raue Center For The Arts continues weekly tapings of the comedy showcase "Lucy's at Home" (free for RaueNOW members), which continues to be a vivacious vehicle hosted by WGN notable John DaCosse, as well as one-night presentations of improv groups, entertainers and singers (815-356-9212, www.rauecenter.org).
Back by popular demand, Joe and Kathleen Isacson have brought a sixth annual national fine art exhibition, "Dangerous Lullabies," to Woodstock's Old Courthouse Arts Center gallery. It's free admission through Nov. 7, and encompasses the allure of things that frighten us. "Dangerous Lullabies" also presents the Artist Film Festival, 13 short films made by the artists commenting on their work (isacson-arts.com).
Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago presents Movie Musical Monday – a free, different movie every Monday at 7 p.m., complete with an interactive conversation; an RSVP is required (Porchlightmusictheatre.org). Porchlight also offers my favorite free virtual series, Sondheim@90 Roundtable, at 7 p.m. Saturdays, hosted by Artistic Director Michael Weber, who is joined by myriad Chicago and Broadway stars. This is Sondheim's 90th birthday year, and it's wonderful to pay tribute to the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Porchlight also archives the presentations.
The Auditorium Theatre's popular historic tours are back – 60 minutes in length, two days a week, but if you can't go in person, you also can do it virtually with a 20-minute tour hosted by CEO Rich Regan. The architectural gem still is closed to performances (312-341-2300, auditoriumtheatre.org).
Launched Oct. 9, a satirical online comedy series, "Hit 'Em on the Blackside," is available from Congo Square Theatre (www.congosquaretheatre.org) into December. If their first episode is any indication (District 4 school opening), it's realistic, funny and oh so true.
In a 21st century Chicago adaptation, H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" is being livestreamed on Zoom through Nov. 21 as a live virtual audio drama ($10 or pay what you will; www.theatreinthedark.com). Director Corey Bradberry recommends: "In this screen-overloaded moment, just put on headphones and listen."
As for those of you dreaming of the holidays, American Blues Theater, which typically stages "It's a Wonderful Life – Live in Chicago!," announced it's going virtual "live from actors' homes" but complete with 1940s sets, costumes and foley effects. Running Nov. 12 to Jan. 2 via Zoom, it will be a ticketed event (Americanbluestheater.com, 773-654-3103).
Goodman Theater also announced it will not present its annual traditional live production of “A Christmas Carol” for the first time in 43 years. Instead, it will offer the show as a free audio play that can be enjoyed at home, with more details pending. Even the venerable Shaw Festival in Canada had to make the difficult choice of canceling its scheduled presentation of “A Christmas Carol.” As the number of active COVID-19 cases in Ontario increased, the last hopes of “the Shaw must go on” diminished. Tim Carroll, artistic director, stated simply, “But our optimism remains unquenchable. We will do what we can, when we can.”
And now Broadway announced closure until summer 2021; truly the theater world has been shaken to its core. Yet I have to believe in John Steinbeck's words: "The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed." Please let it be so.
• Regina Belt-Daniels has been involved in theater for over 30 years – backstage, onstage, on boards and in capacities ranging from stage manager to actress to director.