Now fully in the groove of pandemic adaptation, the Alleyway Theatre will present its first Digital Theatre Festival from November 6-22, with a full menu of original productions featuring nearly 30 performers from Buffalo, New York City, and beyond.
Tickets to the plays can be purchased individually or in a discounted bundle with a festival pass, which includes a ticket to every show. Note that the performances are being broadcast through different platforms, with some coming live through Facebook, Instagram, and Zoom, while others are streaming on demand.
This year’s festival features eight original world-premiere productions, with a major highlight being performances by Tony Award nominees Elizabeth Stanley and Mary Testa.
“The silver lining in this festival is that, because the actors can be located anywhere, we’re able to bring all of these wonderful Broadway performers to the Alleyway,” said Chris J. Handley, Executive Artistic Director. “Seeing them work alongside our awesome hometown actors is a real treat for me. It’s what I’ve been talking about since I came on board: highlighting what we do at the Alleyway to a national audience, and bringing world-class writers and performers to create original plays right here in Western New York.”
While navigating the technology aspects of an all digital festival required a bit of experimentation and learning, it was made easier by the fact that the plays themselves were written specifically for virtual performance.
“The storytelling part of it is the same. There isn’t a difference,” Handley said. “All good art is about connecting, and whether we tell the story on stage, on camera, over the radio, or on a social media livestream… the platform doesn’t change the essence of the art.”
As part of it’s annual Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition, the Alleyway Theatre put out a call for new plays specifically to be performed online and eliminated the usual entry fee. As a result, they received a huge influx of plays from writers throughout the country who may not have otherwise submitted their work. The final eight plays were chosen after a blind reading process, where they looked for material that made the best use of the digital platform.
“We didn’t want anything that you could just go watch on a stage,” Handley said. “I think that’s the excitement of this Festival. Alleyway’s idea is always to discover new stories, and now we’re also discovering new ways to tell them as well. Some are live on Zoom, some are live over Facebook or Instagram, others are available streaming on-demand. It’s a wide range and it’s all about the ‘now.’”
The performance dates, times and platforms are as follows:
A story of an indie singer-songwriter recovering from addiction and trying to connect to his fans, starring Brian Gallagher and directed by Robyn Lee Horn.
November 6 at 8:00 p.m – Live on Facebook
November 7 at 10:00 p.m.: Live on Instagram
November 9-22: Streaming on demand
This play, starring Tony Award nominee Elizabeth Stanley and directed by Ansley Valentine, reveals three inner-voices of a woman grappling with isolation and quarantine as it explores what it means to take action and breathe.
November 7-22, streaming on demand
This play written by Sheri Wilner and directed by Susan Drozd features a plethora of Western New York favorites, led by Debbie Pappas Sham as a laughter yoga instructor navigating the new world of Zoom lessons and all of its twists and turns. Her students are played by Marta Aracelis, Bethany Burrows, Matt Gilbert, Jake Hayes, Sara Jo Kukulka, Bob Mazierski, Mike Starzynski, and Alexandria Watts.
November 13, 15, 19 at 8:00 p.m. – Live on Zoom
Screaming Into the Void
Written by Kira Mason and directed by Katie Horwitz, this play finds four very different women dropped into a void-like limbo where they begin to question what they might have in common. Featuring actors Jen Horne, Caroline Huerta, Renee Landrigan, and Michelle Zink-Muñoz. Each will perform from a different city (Detroit, Tampa, Buffalo, and New York).
November 12-22, streaming on demand
As an improv duo, Buffalo comedians Don Gervasi and Todd Benzin will perform two livestreamed shows where they take suggestions from the audience and create a brand-new original improvised play on-the-spot.
November 14 and 20 at 8:00 p.m. – Live on Zoom
(a special star-studded benefit not included in the Festival Pass)
Three-time Tony Award nominee and veteran Broadway performer Mary Testa will lead an all-star cast for a one-night only benefit reading of Mystery Box by Tom Alan Robbins. Joining Testa are Dakin Mathhews, Wesley Taylor, and Helen Cespedes. The benefit reading will raise funds for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, ECMC’s Immunodeficiency Clinic, and Alleyway’s new play programming.
November 21 at 8:00 p.m. – Live on Zoom
Written by Jane B. Jones, this play is a blood-soaked allegorical comedy about women at the edge of the known universe who are the first to make contact with another life form by accidentally sending them a mating call.
November 10 at 8:00 p.m. – Live on Zoom
The Mighty Maisie
Written by Bella Pynton, this play tells the story of Maisie Clark, whose strange new powers allow her to protect close friends from abusive partners. Helping a young woman named Penny who stumbles onto her porch sets off a chain reaction of events that will forever alter Maisie’s life.
November 17 at 8:00 p.m. – Live on Zoom
For aspiring performers, the Digital Festival will also include two masterclass sessions via Zoom with Broadway actors Ali Ewoldt and Jared Gertner. The masterclasses are an extension of the work of Alleyway’s education wing, the Theatre School of WNY, which offers year-round classes in acting, voiceover, tv/film work, playwriting, auditioning, etc. These sessions specifically will allow students to work one-on-one with Broadway actors and be coached through their performance – a feat that was previously impossible to accomplish due to the actors’ hectic schedules.
“Masterclasses are another piece of the whole pie for a young actor, or any age actor actually,” Handley said. “For an actor who is really serious about their work, hearing some great feedback from Jared and Ali will help them to take the next step forward in their work. And both of these actors are so generous and wonderful, they come from huge performing backgrounds — Jared was nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in The Book of Mormon in London and Ali spent over two years as the first Asian-American actress to play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Working with them is something I would have dreamed of as a young actor. Heck, it’s something I dream of now!”
To learn more about the Digital Festival lineup, or to purchase tickets or a festival pass, visit www.alleyway.com.