Preview: Check Out These Virtual Theater Opportunities From Personal to Palooza

Chicago theater companies took a while to figure out how to respond to the COVID-19 lockdown and continuing restrictions. (And theater companies, small and large, are suffering debilitating financial losses during the pandemic. Theater operates on the thin edge of insolvency in the best of times, but this is a theater catastrophe as well as a health disaster.) Nationally and internationally, theater companies like the UK’s National Theatre Live (which turned into National Theatre at Home) and New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre have offered filmed versions of past productions as well as new staged virtual readings. Chicago theaters got off to a slow start last spring, but several virtual theater offerings are coming up that should encourage you to indulge in theater from your sofa.

Kane Repertory Theatre’s New Play Lab

Kane Repertory Theatre, based in west suburban St. Charles, is featuring its New Play Lab series starting next week. The works touch on current issues that make up our cultural landscape such as group identity, femininity/masculinity, political corruption, and morality in sports. The four plays will be workshopped on four successive Wednesdays; tune in on the theater's YouTube channel. The Humanities by Zayd Dohrn / Streaming August 19 @ 7:30pm. Lincoln University's faculty, staff and students find themselves on the front lines of the culture war when a professor invites a far-right thinker and provocateur to speak on campus. The play was an O’Neill Theater Center festival selection in 2019 and appeared in the 16th annual new Stages Festival at Goodman Theatre.F Be Mean to Me by Sofya Levitsky-Weitz / Streaming August 26 @ 7:30pm. Jean and Meryl, childhood best friends who are now 27, meet up to unpack a friendship full of love but also laced with complexity—and not a small amount of pain. The play was a semi-finalist for Premiere Stages at Keane, IATI Theater. Moreno by Pravin Wilkins / Streaming September 2 @ 7:30pm. It's 2016. Four fictional NFL players have to decide whether to stand for an anthem to a nation in which police violence is endemic and racism is systemic. The play was an O’Neill Theater Center finalist in 2020. The Broken Hearts of a Corrupted White House by Matthew Paul Olmos /Streaming September 9 @ 7:30pm. Howard E. Hunt, an agent so dedicated to the service of his country and President Nixon that he carries out an attack on our nation's democracy, is pushed to confront his own moral ineptitude and wounded pride by his wife, Dorothy.   Eastland cast. Photo by Sean Williams.

Eastland: An Original Musical by Lookingglass Theatre Company

Lookingglass will offer a one-night watch party at 7pm on Thursday, August 20, as a free online public fundraiser. The Eastland production premiered on Lookingglass’ stage in 2012. It’s the story of the sinking of the Eastland excursion ship at the Clark Street bridge in 1915. The ship was packed with 2500 workers and families from Western Electric’s Hawthorn Works, ready for a lake cruise and a day of family fun. When the ship tipped over and dumped its passengers in the river, 844 were drowned, while herculean efforts were made to rescue the survivors. This virtual event will be streamed on Lookingglass Theatre’s YouTube channel and on Facebook. After the show, viewers are invited to join creative team members Andrew White and Andre Pluess for a post-show conversation. RSVP and donate here. The Lookingglass production was inspired by Jay Bonansinga’s bookThe Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy. WTTW recently broadcast its new documentary, Eastland: The Shipwreck that Shook America by Harvey Moshman and Chuck Coppola. Lookingglass playwright Andrew White says "Everyone knows about The Titanic, but comparatively few know of the Eastland disaster, even though it took place right in downtown Chicago. One reason may be that the Eastland passengers were working-class, first-generation immigrants who, like today, kept the country going but were too easily overlooked, discarded, and forgotten.”

Claws by Candle House Collective.

Claws is an immersive experience performed live over the phone for one participant at a time. The participant interacts in real-time with a character from our world, engaging with personal themes and/or helping the character make difficult decisions. Claws has been running consistently sold out since June, but more slots are being added for September and October. Tickets are $30. Candle House Collective is a Chicago-based theater company creating one-on-one immersive experiences that take place entirely over the phone. It’s like a radio drama, but personalized to the individual. “Dark, curious and suspenseful. One act, 30-35mins; a phone call. Highly interactive.” Candle House has been creating remote immersive experiences for over two years. Their model is to bring boundary-pushing storytelling to the comfort of audience members' homes. A New York Times theater critic described the experience in this article on new virtual theater work.   Samuel Beckett's Endgame by the Acting Company This isn’t a Chicago production but it’s such a juicy piece of virtual theater for Beckett fans, I couldn’t resist including it. A free Zoom reading of Endgame premiers tonight and will stream through 6:29pm CDT Sunday, August 16, on YouTube. Watch Endgame here. The link will be live tonight/Wednesday at 6:30pm CDT. Directed by Devin Brain, the cast features J.D. Mollison, John Skelley, Marjorie Johnson, Gabriel Lawrence and William Sturdivant.

PorchlightPalooza, a Three-Day Festival by Porchlight Music Theatre

 Porchlight’s three-day celebration Friday, August 21, through Sunday, August 23, includes performances of Porchlight highlights from its 25-year history and greetings from celebrities across the country. The free festival includes an exclusive interview by Chicago broadcaster Bill Kurtis with the 2020 ICON Award recipient Joel Grey. PorchlightPalooza will be broadcast free on Porchlight’s Facebook page, on YouTube Live and the theater’s event page. Here’s the tentative schedule for PorchlightPalooza: Friday, August 21, at 7pm Celebrating Porchlight Music Theatre’s 25-year history as Chicago's home for music theater–with songs from throughout the years and a kick-off from co-chairs Donna LaPietra and Bill Kurtis. The music performances directed by Michael McBride will feature Brian Acker, Adrian Aguilar, Missy Aguilar, Charissa Armon, Jayson Brooks, Caron Buinis, Lydia Burke, David Girolmo, Lucy Godinez, Sharriese Hamilton, Jermaine Hill, Callie Johnson, Donterrio Johnson, Michelle Lauto John Marshall, Jr., Alexis J Roston and Stephanie Stockstill. Saturday, August 22, at 7pm The second night of PorchlightPalooza celebrates Porchlight's commitment to showcasing emerging artists and nurturing young audiences, with a welcome from co-chairs Rick and Deann Bayless, the presentation of the Luminary Award to Elaine Cohen and Arlen D. Rubin. The music performances directed by Linda Madonia will include E. Faye Butler, Matt Crowle, James Earl Jones II, Heidi Kettenring and Gene Weygandt. Sunday, August 23, at 7pm The conversation between Broadway legend Joel Grey and Bill Kurtis will feature highlights from Grey’s career. The evening also will include performances by Porchlight talents and greetings from artists saluting Grey's influence on music theater including Bob Balaban, Patrick Cassidy, Kristin Chenoweth, Raul Esparza, Josh Gad, Tom Kitt, David Mamet, Joe Mantegna, Howard McGillin, Mandy Patinkin, Benj Pasek, Bernadette Peters, Lonny Price, Chita Rivera, Susan Stroman, Paul Oakley Stovall, Stephen Wallem and Maury Yeston. Porchlight’s music tribute to Grey is directed by Linda Madonia and stars Andres Enriquez, Erica Evans, Cory Goodrich, Christopher Kelley, Laura Savage and Joey Stone. More information, including raffle tickets and donation information, is available here.  

Chicago Dramatists' La nuit d'amour dramatique 

This is Chicago Dramatists' annual gala, which will feature discussions with playwrights, original songs, a play scene and a conversation with actors. La nuit d'amour dramatique is a fundraiser but it's free to participate virtually. Donations will be appreciated. The date is Saturday, August 29, from 7pm to 8:30pm. Register by clicking this link.
The event will be hosted by Kate Flannery (Meredith Palmer of NBC’s "The Office").The schedule will include discussions with:
  • Martyna Majok, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Cost of Living
  • Lydia R. Diamond, a Chicago Dramatists resident alum whose play StickFly was co-produced by Alicia Keys and performed on Broadway
  • Alice Austen, who wrote and produced the award-winning film Give Me Liberty
  • Sue Pak, whose play Miguk Saram is a National Playwrights Conference 2020 finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
The pre-recorded event will also include original songs from musicals in development, a scene from Miguk Saram as well as a conversation among the actors Kirra Silver and Gavin Pak, director Helen Young and playwright Sue Pak.
Register by clicking this link.
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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.