The new social landscape of the COVID-19 era is transforming the local arts scene into a more virtual venue in many instances, including upcoming performances by the St. Albans-based Alban Arts Center, the Children’s Theatre of Charleston, and the former Mountain Roots Community Theatre in Belle.
Alban actors are in hybrid virtual/in-person rehearsal for February performances of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Alban officials have announced the center on Olde Main Street in St. Albans will also host a one-night-only, virtual stage comedy, “A Man and His Prostate,” featuring veteran film and television star Ed Asner, streaming at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Asner performed at the Alban in a 2016 production, “God Help Us,” and was scheduled to return last May for a stage show there until the pandemic scuttled the production.
Asner, 91, has received a record seven prime time Emmys for his television work. Five of the awards were for his role as Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its dramatic spinoff series, “Lou Grant.” Asner also won Supporting Actor Emmys for his roles in two 1970s-era miniseries: “Rich Man Poor Man” and “Roots.” A prolific actor, Asner is also known to more contemporary artists for roles such as Santa Claus in the 2003 Will Ferrell holiday comedy, “Elf;” as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s 2009 animated film, “Up;” and, more recently, as Johnny Lawrence’s contentious stepfather, Sid Weinberg, in the “Cobra Kai” Netflix series.
Tickets for “A Man and His Prostate” and more information are available at albanartscenter.com or by calling 304-721-8896.
Additionally this past week, the Children’s Theatre of Charleston and the Mountain Roots Community Theatre (formerly the BlackRoot Theatre) were scheduled to hold auditions for their respective upcoming productions.
The CToC conducted virtual auditions for “Wiley and the Hairy Man” on Jan. 9 and 10. “Wiley and the Hairy Man” will be filmed at the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences March 14 through March 20, with those performances to be streamed March 25 through March 28.
Leah Turley is directing the CToC production, as well as the Alban’s “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She is also a teacher at the Alban Arts Academy, which launched virtual and in-person classes this week.
“’Wiley and the Hairy Man’ by Susan Zeder is based upon a Southern American folktale about a fatherless boy and his conjure woman mama in the bayou of Mississippi,” Turley explained. “Zeder’s play adaptation allows for interpretations of the show for different cultures and locales. Our production will be set in the Appalachian mountains and feature Appalachian dialects.
“We’re experimenting with large-scale puppetry, like 8-foot-tall puppets,” Turley said. “The set design will feature a large, central tree that will transform into a green, icky, scary swamp. We’ll have a chorus — Greek theater style — that manipulates the puppets, scenery, and props. All sound effects and music will be motivated by the actors; they’ll be singing and chanting, creating sound effects, and playing instruments throughout the production.
“What’s helpful with ‘Wiley and the Hairy Man’ is that we’re taking a Greek approach, where the masks are purposeful,” she said. “It’s an aesthetic that’s part of the show. We’ve been wearing masks in theatre for a long time — this is a way to incorporate them into a part of the show instead of just for safety.”
Mariah Plante of Charleston, a founding member of the Appalachian Artists Collective, will be the assistant director for “Wiley and the Hairy Man.”
More details about “Wiley and the Hairy Man” are posted on the CToC’s Facebook page and its website, ctoc.org.
Having directed other Alban productions, Turley said “The Diary of Anne Frank” will be her first attempt at conducting an understudy program as a part of the Alban Arts Academy.
“Fiona Sullivan, understudying Anne, and J.D. James, understudying Peter, will work with myself and lead actors Rachel Sharp and Ethan Lyvers to create two understudy performances on Sundays, Feb. 21 and 28,” she said.
“Rachel and Ethan are talented actors in their own right. She will graduate from Marshall University in the spring, double majoring in Communications and French with a minor in Theatre and Dance. Ethan is a graduate of the MU School of Theatre and Dance and received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Performance from the University of Houston. They are excellent role models for my young Advanced and Collegiate actors, Fiona and J.D., at the Alban Arts Academy.
“This is the only opportunity in our area for high school students to work with experienced, professional actors and artists in a practical theater setting. These are skills they wouldn’t typically gain until undergrad or professional gigs,” Turley said.
Along with Sharp, Lyvers, and Turley, several of the “Diary of Anne Frank” cast and crew members are graduates of Marshall theater programs. They include Adam Stephens, portraying Otto Frank; Neely Seams, costume designer and assistant director; and Anna Beatty, portraying Margot. Technical Crew member Samantha Phalen plans to study Theatre at Marshall in the fall, as well.
Turley said the “Anne Frank” virtual rehearsals, incorporating PowerPoint digital blocking and other techniques, are being augmented with weekly, in-person rehearsals with COVID-19 safety guidelines in effect.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” is scheduled to be live streamed at 8 p.m. Feb. 19 and 20 and Feb. 26 and 27 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 21 and 28.
The Mountain Roots Community Theater held in-person auditions earlier this week, as well, for its forthcoming production of David Ives’ “All in the Timing.” The group is based at Quincy Center in Belle. Performances of “All in the Timing,” a compendium of six, one-act, comedic plays, are scheduled to be performed March 5 through March 12. More information is available by calling 681-264-0776 or emailing email@example.com.