The COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person performances difficult for theater and music productions over the past year-but it has also created opportunities to imagine new ways to connect with audiences.
This month, the University of Chicago’s Court Theatre will begin hosting Theatre for One: Here We Are, a free digital theatrical experience that is being produced in Chicago for the first time. Bringing together one actor and one audience member, Theatre for One features eight short microplays written and directed by Black, indigenous and women of color playwrights and performed by actors from Chicago.
"We haven’t had anything that is this in the spirt of emotional connection between artist and audience," said Traci Brant, Court Theatre’s director of marketing. "Each play is only five to seven minutes, and it lingers with you-it’s so different than anything I’ve ever experienced."
Free tickets will be released to the public every Thursday at 10 a.m., with preview performances beginning on Feb. 18. The regular run of the show will last from Feb. 21 to March 14.
Special weekend performances for the four Saturday evenings of the performance schedule will also be reserved for UChicago undergraduate students as part of Winterfest --the College’s ongoing series of collaborative, arts-focused events on campus.
Court Theatre is the professional theatre of the University of Chicago, dedicated to innovation, inquiry, intellectual engagement and community service. Part of Court’s mission is to engage and inspire its audience by providing artistically distinguished productions, audience enrichment activities and student educational experiences.
"At a time when theater must be radically experimental in order to exist, Theatre for One is one of the most successful examples of how the arts can pivot during this pandemic," said Sarah Curran, consulting curator for the Experimental Performance Initiative at the University of Chicago. "The project manages to recreate the intimacy and magic of live theater, while also addressing the societal realities of this moment."
As part of its dedication to innovation, inquiry and intellectual engagement, Court Theatre is also working with faculty members from the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies and the Program in Creative Writing, who are using the plays both as objects of study and sources of creative inspiration.
In addition to early access to tickets, Curran said students will have the opportunity to work directly with the creative team on the project, including a writing workshop with creator Christine Jones; a behind the scenes session with director Chris Anthony and actor Elizabeth Laidlaw; and a discussion about the technical aspects of the work with UChicago lecturer Marc Downie, a digital artist and member of the OpenEndedGroup.
"There is so much to learn from this piece," Curran said, "Whether it’s engaging the technical innovation, writing a microplay, or taking a closer look at the poetry of the virtual lobby experience. We are thrilled to make these opportunities available to UChicago students."
The eight microplays, listed below, include works inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and recent movements against racism, including Black Lives Matter and We See You WAT.
"We’re excited to provide access to Theatre for One: Here We Are free-of-charge," said Court Theatre executive director Angel Ysaguirre. "As a form of public art, these microplays offer a unique opportunity for one-on-one connection at a time when the need for new stories is more urgent than ever to make sense of ourselves and the world around us."
Preview Performances: Feb. 18 and 19
Press Opening: Matinee on Feb. 20
Regular Run: Feb. 21 to March 14
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m
Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
"Thank You For Coming. Take Care."
by Stacey Rose , directed by Miranda Gonzalez
"What Are The Things I Need To Remember"
by Lynn Nottage , directed by Chris Anthony
by Carmelita Tropicana , directed by Miranda Gonzalez
"Here We Are"
by Nikkole Salter , directed by Monet Felton
"Thank You Letter"
by Jaclyn Backhaus , directed by Lavina Jadhwani
"Before America Was America"
by DeLanna Studi , directed by Chris Anthony
by Lydia R. Diamond , directed by Monet Felton
"Vote! (the black album)"
written and directed by Regina Taylor
Theatre for One: Here We Are was commissioned by Arts Brookfield with additional support from Thomas M. Neff, and the Chicago premiere is supported by the University of Chicago Women’s Board, Allstate and De and Paul Gray. Theatre for One is produced by Octopus Theatricals and was originally produced by True Love Productions. For more information, visit the Court Theatre website.