All The World’s A Stage Local arts groups move performances online

“Matilda” at Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel | Provided photo


By Kathryn McKenzie

Normally, spring would be prime time for live events to start blooming around the Monterey Bay area. But this year, COVID-19 has changed everything. After all, how can you have live theater or music when people shouldn’t leave their homes?

Although the novel coronavirus threatens to cripple some local nonprofit performing arts groups, they’re determined to find creative ways around the necessity of social distancing.

At least one local theater organization is turning to a meeting app to keep rehearsals going, and other people are offering live performances via Facebook in order to keep their connection with their fans.

“Performing arts events were the first to go,” said Stephen Moorer, founder and executive director of Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel, which had to prematurely end its run of the musical “Matilda” last month and has now had to cancel two other upcoming productions. “Everyone is so in shock right now.”

At The Western Stage in Salinas, the cast and crew of the musical “Miss You Like Hell” were expecting to open the show in April as part of TWS’s SpringFEST, and the shelter-in-place order could have dealt a death blow to the production.

But “Miss You Like Hell” director Melissa Chin-Parker decided to take a chance and keep rehearsals going via ZoomConfer, which she says was made available by Hartnell College, where The Western Stage is headquartered.

“Several other arts organizations are also using Zoom or Google, and we’ve been sharing notes about how best to use a conferencing platform for rehearsals, especially with the audio lag that makes synchronous audio difficult,” Chin-Parker, also TSW artistic program director, wrote in an email.

However, she is not sure if, or when, the production might be presented. The musical, which premiered in 2016, tells the story of an estranged mother and daughter who come back together during a cross-country journey.

“The goal was to get the show as well rehearsed as we could and hopefully be able to present before our young lead (Hannah Rebancos) transfers to university in the fall. We had already staged and choreographed about 90 percent of the show before the lockdown, and were planning to drop in our second lead and our guest artist during these two final weeks of rehearsal.

“As to when it might happen, that’s anyone’s guess at this time. I understand that as time goes on there is diminishing returns for the cast, so I know that there will come a point when we re-evaluate continuing, but I’d love to be able to have a good read/sing-through before ending.”

Snippets from the rehearsals can be seen on The Western Stage’s Facebook page, such as this song by guest artist Rudy Martinez.

TWS’s regular season was due to begin in late May, but artistic director Jon Selover says that that’s now doubtful. “Things are changing pretty rapidly so it is pretty hard to be sure how to react,” he emailed. “We are planning to still produce the full season we announced but the dates will be postponed into the fall and next year.

“These are hard times for everybody and in particular performing arts groups as we can’t share our work until the public is comfortable gathering together.”

The Monterey Jazz Festival announced Tuesday that its 50th annual Next Generation Jazz Festival will not take place live, but will take place online April 3-9. Originally slated for downtown Monterey, the high school jazz musicians’ competition will instead be judged according to submission videos, and online content will be added daily for young participants and the public. Results of the competition will be announced on April 9.

The top-placing big bands, combos, vocal ensembles will earn a spot on the stages of the 63rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, Sept. 25-27. Click here for a list of finalists.

“Jazz teaches us to improvise, to be adaptable and to creatively approach any challenge that we face,” said Jazz Festival executive director Colleen Bailey in a press release. “The virtual Next Generation Jazz Festival will still allow all the schools to compete.”

A schedule of virtual events includes contributions from previous Monterey Jazz Festival artists-in-residence and NGJF participants, including archival MJF footage of Benny Green and Donny McCaslin (April 3); a composition workshop/clinic with Gerald Clayton; album recommendations from Ambrose Akinmusire; a Q&A with Derrick Hodge; a presentation on swing with Allison Miller; an interview with Christian Sands with additional MJF archival performance footage (April 8); and the final announcement of the NGJF top groups with Christian Sands (April 9). A full list of activities can be found on A full list of activities can be found here.

All events and content, including premieres of archival live concert footage from the Monterey Jazz Festival, will be available through MJF’s Instagram Stories, Facebook and YouTube Channel, with additional content on MJF’s SoundCloud channel.

Likewise, Bay Area playwright and performer Brian Copeland is also taking his act and moving it online. Copeland, a former talk show host on KGO-AM, was in final readings of his new play, “Grandma & Me,” which was supposed to open this week in San Francisco.

Copeland figured he had nothing to lose by performing it on Facebook Live after the shelter-in-place order was imposed. He did one show, and people asked for another.

“The response to my readings … has been overwhelming,” he messaged. “Over 1,000 viewers for each one.”

That led him to offer an online performance of his acclaimed one-man play, “Not a Genuine Black Man,” which can be seen on Facebook Live this Saturday at 5 p.m. To find the show, go to his Facebook page.

Moorer of Pacific Repertory Theatre said that luckily, the theater company is in good financial shape at present and will ride out the crisis. But, he said, “This year was already going to be tight.” PacRep is hoping to present the rest of its 2020 season beginning in late June with “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

He encourages people to support their local performers and performing groups, and make a donation or buy a ticket for a future show if they’re able to do so.

“Everybody’s going to be hurting,” said Moorer.

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Kathryn McKenzie

About Kathryn McKenzie

Kathryn McKenzie grew up in Santa Cruz, worked for the Monterey Herald for 10 years, and now freelances for a variety of publications and websites. She and husband Glenn Church are the co-authors of "Humbled: How California's Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin" (Vista Verde Publishing, 2020).