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  • Jake Lewis

Direct-to-stream plays

When I worked in a video store (remember those?) as a teenager, each weekly shipment of new titles would include a few direct-to-video movies. These were films that bypassed most movie theatres, mostly to keep the budget low, and usually were of a lower cinematic quality than the more recognizable titles people rented. (Some of my favorites were the blatant rip-offs of copyrighted works -- War of the Planets instead of War of the Worlds, for instance.)


It comes as no surprise to me that with the sudden emerge of virtual theatre, playwrights have started making theatrical works that are intended directly for online performance, or as I call it, direct-to-stream.


This new offshoot excites me, personally, because it is indicative of a theatrical form that will, at least on some level, stick around. After all, even if a play is not canon, it exists, and for as long as it does, people will be able to perform it.


One title that has recently been popular (if for no other reason than it being one of the originators of the form) is Waiting for the Host by Marc Palmieri. In the first act of this comedy (which may be hedging its bets with a hybrid subtitle: "written for stream or stage"), a group of church members attempt to record the Passion Play virtually. In the second half, the church has brought in a highfallutin Broadway director to assist in creating a community theatre in the church basement. Just like the punny title, the play works on delivering a simple story with likable characters and as much action that can be done on something like Zoom.


Music Theatre International (MTI) , one of the largest licensing companies, has also pivoted to online performances. They have selected a number of shows from their vast catalogue and not only trimmed them down due to the shorter attention spans of people watching things online, but packaged them with virtual backgrounds, pre-recorded musical accompaniment, and many other assets to theatre people voyaging into this undiscovered country.


Drama teachers at all levels in the education spectrum are being given a plethora of material to work with, too. Drama Teacher Academy (through Theatrefolk.com) is just one organization that has developed curriculum and plays for schools that are remote or hybrid. For those of us in either the teaching or community theatre world (and I'm sure for professionals, too), these new doors being opened will allow for so many more ways to present opportunities for working and seeing theatre at the dawning of this new adventure.

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