December 4, 2020 at 12:32 pm PST | by John Paul King
LA theatre companies raise the bar on creativity with 3 new virtual offerings
Tom DiTrinis stars in his comic solo performance, “Making Friends” (Photo by Kyle Roper, courtesy of IAMA Theatre Company)

Are you one of LA’s many fans of live theatre who has been struggling with the loss of a major aspect of your cultural life? Have you been left wanting by having to settle for virtual streams of productions long gone by and livestreams of play readings conducted on Zoom?

Take heart, because you have options – and best of all, they give you an opportunity to show support for the kind of small, local theatre organizations that have been hardest-hit by Covid-forced shutdowns and have, perhaps, the rockiest path ahead to survival in a post-pandemic world.

First up, and ongoing, is “The Gaze… No Homo,” a finalist in the 2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference adapted by writer/creator Larry Powell into a 12-part “media series” presented by the highly-regarded The Fountain Theatre on their new digital platform, Fountain Stream, in partnership with Powell and Angelica Robinson of Tell Me a Story Productions.

A bold and funny episodic tragicomedy for our times, this multi-platform online experience is unlike anything audiences have seen before. The first in Powell’s “The Gaze” cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces, it follows an openly Black queer artist as he navigates the rehearsal process at a very white American theater festival. Tackling hard topics head on, Powell’s timely exploration of the intersection between black and queer experience in the theatre wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”

Powell – who is a writer, actor, director and producer born and raised in South Central L.A, says of the project, “In order to properly experience my own exodus of the decentralization of the white gaze in my creative work and reclaim my black ass imagination I had to stare the poison in the face and, through the telling of Jerome’s story, turn it into the medicine decolonization so fiercely provides. That I was able to make this piece in the summer of 2020 and share this piece that same summer and beyond is a divine triumph. A blessing standing on sacred ground and under one gaze only: the ancestral one. Thankful to any and all who make it possible for others to catch the vision.” 

The short-form episodes began streaming, three at a time, on Friday, Nov. 20; six are available so far, which means you have time to catch up before episodes 7-9 debut on Friday, Dec. 4, with the final three episodes becoming available on Friday, Dec. 11.

Tickets are free at www.fountaintheatre.com/now-upcoming/the-gaze.

Next up, and premiering Dec. 17, is “Making Friends,” from the IAMA Theatre Company – a new, “gaytastic” comic solo play, written and performed by self-confessed rage-aholic Tom DeTrinis, directed by Drew Droege, and filmed live (at LA’s Pico Playhouse) for digital release.

DeTrinis describes himself as “a quick-witted, angry actor/writer/director/producer who just wants to be your friend.” He grew up as an overly-sensitive child in a large family that would have preferred he keep his emotions on a leash. “Everyone thought they knew how to raise me better than my mom and dad,” he says. “I think it was all the mixed messages I was getting that triggered my anger while I was still very young.”

He tells the Blade, “This show is about anger and me, but really it is about being queer in a big family and what happens when so many mixed messages fly your way. I am VERY excited for the LGBTQ+ audiences to watch this because I really think they will see a lot of themselves in here. And I hope they also think about being KINDER to ourselves and others in our community, ‘cause you don’t know what people are going through and how they got to this point in their lives. Everyone is working hard and trying to love and live, and I really want people to take that away from this.”

“Making Friends” will be available for viewing beginning Dec. 17 and continue streaming through Jan. 11, 2021. Tickets, which start at $15, will be sold in weekly blocks and include access to a variety of supporting live events. For more information on ticketing and streaming, go to www.iamatheatre.com.

Lastly, coming on Dec. 18, is “Storage Run,” a new, interactive holiday experience from Rogue Artists Ensemble.

Described as “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Choose Your Own Adventure meets classic holiday fare,” this innovative show explores connection in the computer age with a healthy does of seasonal flavor as it follows a character named Mike, trapped and alone in a tangled web of Rogue storage with just a few weeks remaining until the holidays, on a quest to send a message to the world.

Audiences are invited to help Mike through their Y/N choices, building a “singular and unlikely friendship” and unlocking a “holiday-tastic” adventure along the way – and all from the safety of your computer, as you use an interactive video platform to face multiple branching paths with hundreds of unique combinations and puzzles, with virtual downloadable gifts to sweeten the deal even further.

Rogue Artists artistic director Sean T. Cawelti (who is also the show’s co-creator/writer/animator) tells the Blade, “Storage Run” builds on Rogue Artists Ensemble’s mission of being inclusive of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and telling stories with deep theatricality and heart. It was decided early on that in order to ensure the production would be safe, there would be one central human character named Mike.

Even though they are our only human character we have cast the role with three different artists representing both the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. Mike’s fluid character representation and journey will resonate with all who experience “Storage Run.” Through the story, Mike discovers their friendship with a Robot named Fred and it is through the Robot’s eyes the audience experiences the story. The message of community and the importance of family, no matter how unconventional is at the heart of the experience and I know will resonate with everyone.”

Created by the Rogue ensemble in collaboration with over 50 artists from across the country and utilizing an interactive video platform devised by HapYak, this subversive holiday treat features performances by Miles Taber, Amir Levi, Carene Rose Mekertichyan (who share the role of “Mike”) and Tim Kopacz (who plays “Fred”), with special surprise “magical moments” from a host of other performers.

Part One of the adventure will be available on Friday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET; Part Two will release on Friday, Dec. 25 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET; and Part Three will post on Friday, Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET. Once introduced, all three episodes will remain available through Jan. 31, 2021. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested price of $20. Pre-purchased entries are available now (there’s even a special emailed gift!) at https://www.rogueartists.org/storage-run.

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