Arena Stage presents virtual summer state ‘Looking Forward’

D.C. theater artists perform in Arena Stage’s summer slate “Looking Forward.” (Courtesy Arena Stage)

D.C. theaters are likely unable to perform publicly for the foreseeable future.

So, Arena Stage is launching a virtual summer slate called “Looking Forward.”

“I had a realization a couple weeks into the pandemic that … we needed to have ways to get to our audience,” Artistic Director Molly Smith told WTOP. “In the same way that we have a season of plays at Arena Stage, why not have a season online?”

The program includes two new original films, starting with “May 22, 2020” on Friday.

“I can’t remember some of the things I was doing three or four weeks ago — it’s a lifetime ago — so this will be a snapshot in time of our region,” Smith said. “The idea came that we would bring on 10 writers to interview 10 people in D.C., Maryland and Virginia for stories about their lives, who they are and how they’re dealing with the pandemic.”

Three filmmakers will direct the segments starring 10 of the best local actors.

“I’ll be directing four of them, Seema Sueko will be directing four of them and Anita Maynard-Losh will be directing some,” Smith said. “We’ve brought in videographers from the D.C.-Virginia area as well, so it’s hyper-local. … We will be filming all 10 of the monologues … no longer than five minutes each, so it’ll be about a 50-55 minute film.”

The second film is called “Inside Voices” and arrives June 19.

“This is young people’s stories in the middle of the pandemic,” Smith said. “We have 10 different working ensembles of young artists that are creating these stories. You can imagine how interesting the videos are because kids are really, really good with iPhones.”

In addition to the films, Arena is also hosting online master classes by top talent.

“We have master classes with playwrights like Craig Lucas, Eduardo Machado, Karen Zacarias; we have design classes with people like Alejo Vietti and Joe Salasovich; Seema Sueko is teaching a directing class,” Smith said. “There are 10 master classes, each class has two sessions with only 16 students in each. Within 36 hours, they were all sold out.”

There’s also an online marketplace for theater artists to sell their products and services.

“Ninety-five percent of artists in the United States have lost work, and 62% are completely out of work,” Smith said. “So, we’re having a marketplace for things the artists want to sell, everything from drawings to paintings to actors calling you to do a monologue. One of our wonderful performers says she will do an entire show. … It’s thrilling what people are offering.”

This includes actors Marsha Mason, Ed Gero, Kate Baldwin, Nicholas Rodriguez, Dawn Ursula, Lise Bruneau, Kirsten Wyatt; designers Ken MacDonald, Ivania Stack, Paige Hathaway, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; fight choreographers David S. Leong and Jenny Male; voice and dialect coaches Lisa Nathans and Zach Campion; and production artisans Deborah Nash and Timothy Thompson.

You can also participate in the annual Camp Arena Stage, which has traditionally been held in person at Georgetown Visitation for the past 15 years but will now be online.

“It’s high touch, high impact with young people, classes in everything from claymation to zumba to drawing to creating newspapers,” Smith said. “People who aren’t able to travel to D.C. to take the camp could take it in their own communities. And you know what’s happened? We have over 200 campers so far, half from different parts of the country.”

When might we see live theater return?

“We are still in that process of trying to figure it out,” Smith said. “Right now, you can only have 10 people [in a public space], so we need to wait until it’s larger. But when we come back, we will come roaring back with great projects and actors who are eager to bring stories to the audiences because I think everybody has been hungry for this.”

Until then, let’s look forward to “Looking Forward.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Molly Smith (Full Interview)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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