Theatre B recently announced that its final show of the season, “The Father,” would be cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The Moorhead theater may be dark these days, but members have been thinking of something to brighten their audience’s days.
“When a nonprofit theater troupe can’t keep the doors open, how do we keep the lights on? How do we let people know we’re still here and how do we engage people?” asks ensemble member Tim Larson.
There’s no pandemic playbook to look to, so instead actors are looking to some of their favorite plays and other books.
Theatre B recently announced a new program called B at Home, a way of bringing a bit of theater to fans’ homes as actors read from the comfort of their own homes. The shows are streamed on Theatre B's Facebook page. It’s a bit like a radio drama, though with the benefit of a Zoom conference call, viewers can see the actors’ faces.
And views will really want to see faces tonight as troupe members read the first X-Men comic book.
Larson proposed the idea of reading the comic book panel by panel.
“We can’t produce a set, so how do we give a traditional theater experience? For me, comic books do that,” he says.
Comics are storytelling and often have a drama that needs to unfold in a certain amount of pages. Larson expects tonight’s reading to last 30 or 40 minutes.
His choice of The X-Men is based not only in the drama, but also the message.
“The meaning of The X-Men resonates today,” he says, explaining that The X-Men storyline has always been about the other. The heroes, labeled on the cover of the first issue as, “The strangest superheroes of all”and later tagged “The uncanny X-Men,” are mutants and must deal with bigotry, similar to how people of different races, faith beliefs and sexual orientation have been discriminated against.
Larson plays Iceman with David Wintersteen as the team’s teacher, Professor X and Jacob Hartje as the villain, Magneto. Because there wasn’t as much female representation in comics in the 1960s and Theatre B’s gender split is about 50/50, some gender bending was required, with Crystal Cossette Knight playing Angel and Monika Browne-Ecker playing Beast.
Larson says the production will use the comic’s illustrations onscreen, but that may not be the only visuals.
“I will not be surprised if people are in costume,” he says. “It’s a bit of an experiment. My hope is that it’s a successful one. There are lots of comics from the same time period that are like radio dramas.”
Saturday’s show will be four short plays by David MacGregor, who Theatre B patrons may remember wrote “Vino Veritas” and “Scrooge MacBeth.”
The shows are free, though in Theatre B co-founder and Executive Director, Carrie Wintersteen’s introduction she has asked viewers to become supporters of the theater. This week that appeal will be for donations to former Theatre B actor Adam Harfield, currently fighting cancer.
So, without being able to count receipts, how will the troupe tell if the show is a success?
“I would see it as a success if we can reach a group we normally don’t reach,” Larson says, referring to people that may go to a superhero film in a movie theater, but never step into a playhouse.
“If we can get people like that to dip a toe into the arts, we’d be excited,” he says.
“There might be people who have never heard of us, but now can check out this wacky group on the Plains,” says Wintersteen.
She also says success will be gauged by the actors.
“Was it satisfying as an artist? Did you learn something? Was it challenging?” she says.
“So far the energy from members to me feels like a success.”