Arts / Performing Arts

Bold Houston Theater Company Makes Social Media its New Stage Under Coronavirus Pandemic Realities

Stages' Showcase Gordy Theater May Be Closed, But it's Still Determined to Entertain Homebound Audiences

BY // 04.17.20

Never has the phrase “The show must go on” been interpreted more creatively than during the COVID-19 pandemic. The curtain may be down and marquees dark, but social media is the new stage for theater companies seeking to engage audiences more personally than ever before.

Take Stages in Houston, for example. The company had just opened its new 66,850-square-foot home, The Gordy, with three performance spaces, two rehearsal studios, event spaces, administrative offices, a lounge, a pedestrian plaza and green space and more. The grand opening took place January 18; the first performance was The Fantasticks on January 24.

Soon after, the world ground to a halt. Theaters everywhere, from Houston to Broadway and London’s West End, found themselves shutting their doors, canceling performances and even entire seasons. Even Broadway and London’s West End went dark.

“It’s hard to believe that we celebrated the grand opening of our new campus less than three months ago,” says Stages’ managing director, Mark Folkes. “Printed on the wall just inside the main doors of The Gordy is a statement that reads: ‘We sit together in the dark to know how to love each other in the light.’ This has even more significance today than we could have imagined when we opened the building.”

Even without a physical stage, however, there’s a solid audience for theatrical experiences. And given the interactive nature of social media, that audience is enjoying unprecedented access to performers and creative teams, with a give and take not normally found under a proscenium arch.

Stages has taken to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to entertain and educate a homebound public, with videos, trivia nights, story time, and more.

Recent “Stages Stories” videos find artistic associate Mitchell Greco discussing the play Sensitive Guys (scheduled to run June 10 to 21) with actor Rachael Logue and exploring social distancing with actress Holland Vavra while her own play, Honky Tonk Laundry (rescheduled for May 20 through July 26), is on hiatus.

Facebook Live trivia, set for this Tuesday, April 21 and hosted by Eboni Bell, will highlight the upcoming play Hook’s Tale (July 10 to August 2) and will also test participants’ greater Peter Pan knowledge. Hook’s Tale is also the subject of a behind-the–scenes video from properties master Jodi Bobrovsky.

In Storytime with Buttons, actor Ryan Schabach reads stories to children (and the young at heart) as his character from Panto Sleeping Beauty (November 27 to December 27). In the March 28 premiere, posted on YouTube, Buttons gives his own spin to The Lord of the Rings.

“People are at the center of our work,” Folkes says. “That remains true even when we’re not able to gather together as a community. We’re finding ways to build virtual connections between our audiences, artists, and staff until we’re able to be together again at The Gordy.”

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