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FeaturedUpdate: Inclusive-theater troupe moves online for new shows

Update: Inclusive-theater troupe moves online for new shows

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[UPDATE: The March 18 performance in Alexandria will be rescheduled due to expected inclement weather that evening. See the Website, below, for updated information.]

In a COVID world, sometimes the show can’t go on. But for the ArtStream troupe, that simply wasn’t an option.

Having lost its spring 2020 Northern Virginia performance to the pandemic, the troupe – which features individuals dealing with developmental disabilities – pivoted late last year and began preparing a pair of shows that could be filmed online.

The results – “The Haunting at Rosecliff Manor” and “One Small Step” – will make their debut in a unique setting: the Alexandria Drive-In Theatre. The two one-hour shows will be shown in tandem on Thursday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m., with audience members watching from the comfort of their cars.

The evening of Friday, March 19, the shows will be streamed online for those who wish to watch them that way.

Since 2007, ArtStream has presented more than 300 performances. In Northern Virginia, its shows have taken place at Gunston Arts Center in Arlington and, more recently, the Nannie Lee Center in Alexandria.

While the mechanics have changed for 2021, the overall philosophy remains the same. From conception to performances, actors are included in the creative process. Themes are decided on, scripts are written, musical numbers developed and choreographed, then the works are presented to appreciative audiences.

In 2020, ArtStream was raring to go with new shows (“Song of the Rainbow Warrior” and “Ships Away”) in mid-March, just as the pandemic began to impact daily life across the local region. At first, the troupe hoped the health threat would pass and live performances could be offered after a delay, but it proved impossible.

Like many arts and educational organizations, ArtStream found a way to persevere. Its annual fall gala and dance party turned into an online event last year, about the same time the decision was made to bring the 2021 shows to life in a different type of format.

“So many of our participants have had the rest of their lives turned upside down, with jobs canceled, independent-living arrangements on hold, lockdowns at group homes or residential-care facilities,” executive director Heller An Shapiro said last fall, “so ArtStream is one constant that keeps them engaged in the community.”

The 2021 shows have participants playing their roles mostly from their homes. While not the same as an in-person experience, it does offer the opportunity for creative special effects (created for “Rosecliff Manor” by Robert Lodge).

In “The Haunting at Rosecliff Manor,” a group of snooty rich folks descend on a mansion they have inherited from their equally rich relatives. On the wall stand portraits of those long-gone family members.

“Those are my ancestors?” one character sniffs. “They look pretty stuffy!”
But it turns out the paintings are not only valuable, but come with a very special secret – they come to life, and work with some of the nicer family members to prevent a home-designer from absconding with them.

The show was directed by Elizabeth Cronin, with Leah Kocsis serving as composer and choreographer. It included a number of ArtStream veterans, who have performed in past shows, as well as mentors who lent their hand in different roles.

Performers said they were glad that the show did go on, albeit in a new kind of format.

“It was a different experience,” acknowledged Suzan Basoglu, who portrayed Myrtle Wentworth in “Rosecliff Manor.”

“It was fun, but nothing like performing together in the same place,” she said. “I missed everybody.”

The second show, “One Small Step,” focuses on a band of people who want to go into space in search of a new planet, and have to audition to see who is chosen. Throughout the seelection process, they spend time reflecting on their decision, and what they will miss – and won’t – by departing terra-firma.

• • •

Tickets for the March 18 performance at the Alexandria Drive-In Theatre must be purchased in advance; none will be sold at the gate. For information on the March 18 drive-in show and the March 19 online performance, see the Website at www.art-stream.org.

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