CMU professor pivots live performance to streaming fundraiser for shuttered theater
The performing arts industry has been particularly hard hit by nationwide stay-at-home orders enacted in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. With gatherings forbidden, performance houses sit empty and productions are halted. As a live performance director, Kim Weild is no exception to the cancellations.
The associate professor and option head of Carnegie Mellon University’s John Wells Directing Program in the School of Drama was directing the play Cry It Out, already open in Pittsburgh’s City Theatre. The show, written by Molly Smith Metzler, was forced to end its run early.
"It happened so fast," said Weild, who got a late-night phone call from theater staff letting her know that night’s performance had been the final one. "My immediate response was sadness for all the artists … then my thoughts turned to my City Theatre family and what this would mean for them."
In many ways, the City Theatre community is also the CMU community. City Theatre Artistic Director Marc Masterson teaches graduate directing courses at CMU, and a number of other faculty members were involved in the production, including: Anne Mundell (Scenic Design), Cindy Limauro (Lighting Design) and Sartje Pickett (Sound Design).
The theater released a statement on March 23, explaining the devastating impact of the lost revenue from the production’s 11 canceled performances. Despite furloughs, the theater faces cash losses of $450,000. A virtual performance might seem like an obvious solution in an era where everything else has gone remote. But Weild says offering theatrical performances online is complicated.
Streaming theatre productions have not been widely adopted in the United States because of costs and protections from the Actors Equity Association. Weild says Pittsburgh’s City Theatre approached the unions to ask about a special, limited agreement to allow for streaming. "We were the first in the nation to reach out about this," Weild said.
The result? The show has gone on - virtually. Pittsburgh City Theatre films their shows for archival purposes, and so had a recording of an earlier performance of Cry It Out. "We have this gem of a theater here in Pittsburgh that impacts the nation by developing and producing new and fantastic plays. We were ahead of the curve in responding to the pandemic, setting the model for other theaters," said Weild.
Patrons who had already purchased tickets to the performance can Prices start at $10, and the theater has created a "pick your price" structure.
"I am deeply proud of what we all made together and grateful to Marc Masterson and everyone at City Theatre for giving us all the opportunity to bring this wonderful play to life and, through streaming, into audience members’ living rooms," Weild said. "While this will never replace the experience of coming together for live theatre, this is a wonderful opportunity to make the performances accessible to a wider audience. It will be interesting to see if streaming stays around."
Interested patrons can stream the play through April 5.