Passing by the Arizona Theatre Company’s website or Facebook pages, patrons might be inclined to think Arizona’s state theater is busier than ever despite its dark stages.
They’ll also notice its only persona has changed in its very character.
Artistic Director Sean Daniels says the pandemic forced them to improve their online presence.
“A couple months ago, our online presence was just bad,” Daniels says. “It was very transactional. We were just using the internet to sell. Everyone knows that’s not how it works. You have to engage. You use it for a place to learn. Now, everyone is online for hours a day. It would have taken a long time to do what we have done. I can’t give (my staff) enough credit.”
They created four rooms where artists create and talk about art. Each week, they produce two podcasts that tie the content together.
“We looked back at what is the organization we always wanted to be but never had the time,” says Jasmine Roth, the director of education and learning.
Artistic Programs Director Will Rogers made sure the content was diversified. The rooms are named The Green Room, The Rehearsal Room, The Black Box and The Classroom.
“As long as we kept our eye toward filling each of these rooms, we would have diverse content,” he says.
The Green Room
The Green Room is where ATC members chat with national and local artists. Videos feature past performers sending messages and short performances to Arizona audiences.
• Brenda Jean Foley singing two songs from her home.
• Brandon Espinoza, who played Cliff in the recent production of “Cabaret,” performing a song that was cut from that musical on his ukulele.
• Ben Scheuer, a singer-songwriter, performing “Weather the Storm.”
• Channel Bragg and Cyndey Trent sharing their experience of working at ATC.
Each of these videos lets ATC artists connect with audiences.
“People want to feel they are closer to the work we do and the individuals who make it happen,” Daniels says.
The Rehearsal Room
The Rehearsal Room is where artists explore plays, musicals and topics that affect artistic communities. The content here encourages conversation around art.
Some examples include:
• Carly Grossman, who starred in the ATC production of “The Music Man,” talks about her experience as an intern as a UA student. She then sings “Making Love Alone” by Bernadette Peters.
• Roth and Rogers host a podcast on gender queerness and theater with co-host Maybe Stewart, a playwright, director and stage manager who has worked at ATC and throughout the Valley.
• Daniels hosts a podcast with Chris D’Arienzo, the writer and creator of “Rock of Ages,” talking about the musical and the new piece that will premiere at ATC.
• Acting intern Austin Killian discusses his experience on “The Legend of Georgia McBride.”
• Actor Kevin Cantor presents a digital prologue to “The Legend of Georgia McBride” prior to the online streaming of the show.
The Black Box
The Black Box room is the stage where there are play readings, online workshops of plays and musicals, livestreams of performances, and community conversations around performances.
The content is ephemeral. It is posted for a time, and then, because of rights and contracts, is removed. It featured a streaming of “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” the show whose run had to be cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From May 11 to May 15, there was a live Zoom reading of Daniels’ play “The White Chip,” an autobiographical story about his recovery from alcoholism. It brought back the cast who performed in off-Broadway a year ago.
While the streaming was free, donations were split between the ATC and The Voices Project, a grassroots addiction recovery program.
“What we’re doing is really inspiring,” Roth says. “In supporting (‘The White Chip’), we are creating all this digital content around it and around recovery and trying to bring awareness for sobriety and recovery. We have two podcasts, a community conversation every day of the five days the show is able to stream.”
She says they wanted people to share this experience to provide support and inspiration for those who are struggling—especially when people can’t get together.
“I’m really proud of us for the way we’re stepping up and making sure people’s stories are heard and giving them a platform and tackling an issue in our society,” Roth says.
The Classroom offers two opportunities. ATC Teens can sign up for programs, or those of any age can attend a Zoom class on Thursdays or watch a YouTube video later.
“Jasmine Roth is our amazing theater educator,” Daniels says. “Every day she is teaching classes—not just for kids. Now, she is teaching adults. It’s progress we would have done over the course of several years, but now we’re doing it. Everyone on our staff has rallied and really made it happen.”
Roth says it’s exciting to bring in offerings that may not have happened otherwise, in part because performers would be too busy.
Also, performers who couldn’t afford to fly in to teach a class for an hour or so can meet with students on Zoom. For example, she brought in Sally Cade Holmes.
“I sent (the students) an Instagram video that was a funny, quirky announcement,” Roth says. “I was on her website saying, ‘I wonder what project she’s done?’ pretending I didn’t know. ‘Oh, it’s Hadestown.’ They freaked out, fangirling so hard.”
ATC was forced to lay off much of its staff.
“We had to let 65% of our staff go, which is less than average (among arts organizations),” he says. “Most let 80% go; some let everybody go. We made the choice that we wanted to stay connected to our audience, to still have content, and that takes a certain amount of people.”
He says they’re having to be smart and make tough decisions. With the cancellation of its last two shows, the company lost $1 million. They’re paring down and trying to make sure their employees, artists and technicians have a theater to return to.
The ATC announced its fall season. Dates may shift, but the season will start as soon as it’s safe for audiences.
“We are not going to rush back if it is unsafe for our audience,” Daniels says. “We’re looking at a lot of things we can do. Will our balcony be a social distancing area? Do we want to limit the people who can be in the building? Can you enter the building from anywhere? Will there be masks you can pick up as you come in? It will look different. The most important thing is the safety of our audience and our staff and our artists. We won’t do anything that puts people in harm’s way.”
Arizona Theatre Company