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FeaturedInclusive-theater company scores with in-person, online duo

Inclusive-theater company scores with in-person, online duo

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Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Bogie and Bacall. A baseball pitcher and catcher. Kim and Kanye (wait, scratch that one …).

And now add a new successful pairing to the list, courtesy the ArtStream inclusive-theater troupe.

Having been shut out of 2020 productions due to COVID and pushed into an all-online format for its 2021 rebound, the organization’s Northern Virginia troupes returned to the local stage last week with a hybrid offering: One show live and, after intermission, the other shown on film.

And it worked out just fine, judging by the audience’s reaction to the Saturday-matinee performance held at Synetic Theater’s performance space in Crystal City.

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ArtStream works with those 18 and older with intellectual challenges, aided by theater professionals and community mentors, to develop, create and deliver original programming. The Northern Virginia troupe performs annually in the springtime.

This year brought two endeavors:

• “The Greatest Show Under the Sea” follows a young ocean creature who, despite her mother’s disapproval, aspires to join a circus that is performing on a coral reef, overcoming challenges and making friends along the way. It is being presented live.

• “Pandora’s Labyrinth” looks at three high-school girls who find themselves bored learning about Greek mythology in their ancient-history class, only to find it suddenly springing to life with themselves in starring roles. It was filmed earlier, edited (including some spiffy special effects) by Robert Lodge – who also did the 2020-21 online shows– and screened for audiences.

“The only silver lining I have found come out of this pandemic is the fact that I get to join this wonderful group of actors via Zoom,” said Elizabeth Cronin, director of “Pandora’s Labyrinth.”

Going online “challenges us in so many various ways,” she acknowledged, adding that the cast rose to meet the moment.

“Can you imagine staying focused for two hours on a Zoom rehearsal? Let alone every week?” Cronin wrote in her director’s notes. “Our actors do it without the blink of an eye.”

Co-directing the live-on-stage production of “The Greatest Show Under the Sea” were Simon Kaplan and Luke Scaros in first-time outings for the organization.

“We used improvisation, imagination and our talented actors’ passion to create the piece,” said Scaros. “[The actors] wanted to create a story that teaches the audience that everyone should be welcomed.”

(ArtStream shows always have had their share of humor of the chuckle-out-loud variety. One example from “Under the Sea”: “What did one sea cucumber say to the other? ‘I think I’m in a pickle.’” Borrowing from the late Ed McMahon: Hey-yo!)

Greg Hoppe, a 31-year-old Fairfax County resident who as a student performed at Lake Braddock Secondary School and St. Paul VI Catholic High School, took ArtStream classes for several years before joining one of the Northern Virginia performance troupes in 2013, and has appeared in many productions, including “Pandora’s Labyrinth.”

His favorite part of ArtStream? “Making new friends and taking bows,” he said in a warming up the audience prior to an opening-weekend show.

“What you are about to see is a team effort between the actors like me, the directors and the mentors,” Hoppe said, while jovially requesting audience members to “turn off all cellphones, pagers . . . and babies.”

In March 2020, ArtStream was raring to go with newly created shows (“Song of the Rainbow Warrior” and “Ships Away”) just as the pandemic began to impact daily life across the local region. At first, organization leaders expressed hope that the health threat would pass – “six weeks to ‘flatten the curve,’” Americans were told – and live performances could be staged after a delay. But it proved impossible and, despite the months of preparation, the shows had to be scrapped.

Like many arts and educational organizations, ArtStream found a way to pivot and persevere. Its annual fall gala and dance party later in 2020 morphed into an online event, and the decision was made to bring the 2021 shows to life, albeit without live-on-stage performances.

Those 2021 shows (“The Haunting at Rosecliff Manor” and “One Small Step”) made their debut (in a filmed format) at the Alexandria Drive-In Theatre, followed by online streaming.

Over the course of its Northern Virginia productions, ArtStream has performed at Arlington Public Schools’ Gunston and Thomas Jefferson theaters as well as the Nannie Lee Center in Alexandria before decamping to Synetic’s space for 2022. Since its first shows in 2007, ArtStream has staged 320 performances spanning 60 original musicals in Maryland and Virginia.

• • •

“The Greatest Show Under the Sea” and “Pandora’s Labyrinth” continue through April 2, with an online presentation slated for April 14 via Zoom. For the in-person shows, proof of COVID vaccination is required, as is masking.

ArtStream’s Virginia cabaret company will present “Come Alive” on Monday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Synetic Theater. The filmed version of the concert will premiere on May 23.

For information, see the Website at www.art-stream.org.

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