Live theater is essentially ephemeral, but digital technology can provide permanence, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes these recorded performances preferable to no theater at all.
One bonus is that some companies are bringing back beloved shows that we wouldn't normally get to see again.
Such is the case with “To Master the Art,” William Brown and Doug Frew's loving tribute to the years Julia Child and her husband Paul spent in Paris in the late 1940s and early '50s.The world premiere, hailed for Karen Janes Wooditsch's uncannily convincing Julia Child, was a huge hit for TimeLine Theatre Company in 2010 at its intimate home on Wellington Avenue, and the 2013 remount at the Broadway Playhouse by the Chicago Commercial Collective, Broadway in Chicago and producers Brian Loevner and Aurélia F. Cohen turned out to be equally successful.
Now TimeLine is streaming the video of that second production from May 12 through June 7. Just as for its live shows and first venture into virtual theater, “Kill Move Paradise,” patrons can buy tickets ($15-$25) for a specific date and time on a schedule similar to that for regular performances –but they can stream the play anytime within a week of the date and time purchased. Reflecting the number of seats in the Wellington Avenue theater, only 99 tickets are available for each performance.
“We took 'Kill Move Paradise' online as a way to complete its existing run after the theaters shut down, and it did well enough that when it became clear we couldn't stage the live world premiere of 'Relentless,' our next show, we started looking around for other options to stream,” explained Lara Goetsch, TimeLine cofounder and director of marketing and communications. “'To Master the Art' came up pretty early for three main reasons. We'd commissioned it in 2008. We had a good relationship with the playwrights. And we'd presented the world premiere, which was so popular that the eight-week run sold out in a few days.”
Goetsch added that “To Master the Art” also struck everyone as right for our times. “The message is about loving and living life to its fullest and savoring every moment, hopeful and uplifting sentiments we need right now,” she said. “Also, people are cooking at home more.”
On a practical level, streaming the video makes a little money for the theater and gives subscribers an opportunity to use their flex passes, as well as to make additional donations. Goetsch said that some people did during “Kill Move Paradise,” and she estimated that 1,576 tickets, or 76 percent of those available, were sold to subscribers and single-ticket buyers for the online run.
While negotiating contracts with the unions for “Kill Move Paradise” was relatively easy because it was the current production, Goetsch said that being able to stream past shows wasn't a sure thing. However, TimeLine was able to negotiate a collectively bargained agreement with Actors’ Equity Association and to secure agreements and approvals from the other unions involved, as well as from playwrights Frew and Brown (who also directed).
The recording of the 2013 production was chosen because the video and audio quality was better than for the 2010 original. Online credits and other features were assembled to prepare it for viewing. Besides Woditsch, the cast includes Craig Spidle (Paul Child), Juliet Hart (Judith, Grace), Terry Hamilton (Bugnard, Big John), Jeannie Affelder (Madame Dorin, Maria, Simca), and Ian Paul Custer (Joe, Lee, Hollings) from 2010 plus Janet Ulrich Brooks (Madame Brassart, Avis),
Heidi Kettenring (Jane), Brian Plocharczyk (Gilles, Mick, Richard, Smith, Cole), and Sam Ashdown (Carolina, Black). Most are familiar to TimeLine audiences, and several have appeared at
Court Theatre, too.
In keeping with its mission to connect with audiences in a variety of ways, Goetsch said that TimeLine is replicating its educational lobby display about Child from its original production and planning post-performance Zoom discussions, which garnered growing audiences for “Kill Move Paradise.” Programs and tidbits—such as a list of French restaurants—are being sent to ticket holders, along with the link and password they receive an hour before their performance time.
If you saw “To Master the Art” live and are lamenting the loss of a key ingredient, especially from the opening scene at La Couronne restaurant in Rouen where Julia enjoyed her first life-changing French meal, take heart. Goetsch said that viewers will receive instructions on how to sauté shallots in butter so that the aroma fills the room as the sole meunière is served, just as the stage manager did for each performance. Bon Appetit!
For tickets and information, go to www.timelinetheatre.com or call the box office at 773-281-8463 ext. 6