It’s live theater in your living room, according to 16th Street Theater Artistic Director Ann Filmer. Or a reasonable facsimile of it. Their show “Methtacular!” opened by livestream on March 19.
The show, originally slated to open at their location at 6420 16th St. in Berwyn on the same day it began streaming, was already prepared. A one-person show with a sparse set meant a lot of work was not put into preproduction. But, crew had been paid for what was completed.
Then, news hit of shutdowns to hamper the spread of the coronavirus. It became clear the 60-seat theater could not hold live performances.
Filmer, who spoke on the phone from the theater location with their staff of three (including her) on site, said they are committed “to pay everyone for the full production.”
She also said the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity Association, had drawn up a contract for COVID-19 that enables their artists to get paid. 16th Street employs union talent.
One by one, well-known Chicago theaters such as Goodman, Victory Gardens and Court Theatre postponed or cancelled current productions with no other viewing options. (Goodman has a production from 2016, the play 2666 streaming for free from its website.)
Locally, Echo Theater Collective postponed “Exit Strategy” and “Rimers of Eldrich.” They plan to stream other content in the future.
But at 16th Street, the story has played out differently. Steven Strafford, the Chicago playwright and actor who created “Methtacular!” had put on the show in Chicago and New York to positive reviews. In May 2019, a live performance at Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago, was produced with multiple cameras. It was ready to go.
The show is a humorous telling of a highly-personal three-year journey of drug addiction and Stafford’s younger self’s wild sexual explorations as a gay male.
“Methtacular!” consists of Strafford and a piano player, and one “game show” segment with audience participation. In the 16th Street tradition, this will be supplemented on Thursday and Friday nights with audience talkbacks, only now they are accomplished using Zoom, a remote conferencing service.
The One Earth Film Festival used Zoom recently when it, too, went virtual to keep its festival going when it was no longer advisable to gather in large crowds. For example, more than 100 viewers joined in virtually watching “Monty and Rose,” heard from the filmmaker and environmental experts and participated in a virtual conversation.
Like any live performance, “Methtacular!” tickets are being sold for specific dates and times, the same as the original run for the play. Filmer calls this “a communal experience for a particular performance.”
Once a ticket is purchased, an email is sent an hour prior to show time. Options for viewing include a computer, phone, tablet or Smart TV. There will be an introductory “curtain speech video with recommendations of how best to enjoy your virtual, communal night.”
The show can be accessed until 11 p.m. Talkback nights will include additional instructions to connect to a live experience with Steven Strafford. They are scheduled on Thursdays and Fridays from 9:15 to 9:30 p.m.
Streaming tickets can only be sold in the quantities equal to the number of seats in the theater due to contract rules, according to Filmer. So, when 60 tickets are sold to a single performance, no more access will be granted.
Tickets for streaming are $10, but the usual in-house prices for a live performance — $30 for a reserved seat, $18 to $22 for general admission – is still an option on the ticket buying site.
Filmer suggested those wanting to donate in support of the theater and its employees could choose these options when purchasing tickets. Employees who typically work during the show’s run still need to be paid.
For viewers wanting to replicate the dinner-and-show experience, 16th Street has continued to partner with local restaurants for ticket holders. Special discounts or menus are being offered by Berwyn establishments Autre Monde, Bodhi Thai, Capri Due and Lavergne’s for carry out, curbside pickup or delivery.
The show runs through April 4. Tickets can be purchased from 16thstreettheater.org/productions/methtacular