The show must go online: Fort Myers’ Florida Rep puts canceled plays on web

The show must go online: Fort Myers’ Florida Rep puts canceled plays on web

Audiences never got to see “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at Florida Repertory Theatre. Not live, anyway.

And it’s a shame, says co-star Rachel Burttram Powers.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done at Florida Rep, certainly,” Powers says. “It’s so modern and fresh, and the staging and the design elements are just really cool. … So we were super bummed.”

Powers doesn’t have to be bummed anymore.

A filmed version of the play recently got posted on the theater’s website, along with Florida Rep’s one-man show “Every Brilliant Thing.” Both plays were canceled last month because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is the unauthorized sequel to the classic Ibsen drama “A Doll’s House. It’s also one of the hottest plays in America right now.

“I’m so glad everybody will be able to see the work,” Powers says. “We’re really proud of it.”

Normally, theaters don’t have the rights to shoot and post video of their productions. But the COVID-19 era is anything but normal.

So Florida Rep started asking around.

“We got in touch with the licensing agencies and the unions to get the permissions to offer the production to the ticket holders,” Florida Rep’s associate artistic director Jason Parrish says about “A Doll’s House.” “Too many artists and technicians worked too hard to let the production go unseen or at least captured for the archives.”

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Florida Rep’s digital media specialist Joe Dafeldecker was lead videographer and editor for both plays. A five-camera crew shot “A Doll’s House, Part 2” in the main Arcade Theatre, while a three-camera crew captured “Every Brilliant Thing” on the smaller ArtStage Studio Theatre.

“Every Brilliant Thing” was shot with an actual Florida Rep audience, since the show was able to perform part of its run before closing early, Parrish says.  “A Doll’s House,” however, was canceled before opening night and couldn’t be filmed with a normal audience.

Instead, Florida Rep’s own employees sat in the theater and watched the performance, Parrish says. “So when the streaming audience hears laughs, it is our admin and production staff and the creative team watching the final dress rehearsal.”

In “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” playwright Lucas Hnath imagines what happens after Nora famously slams the door and leaves her husband and children in Ibsen’s drama “A Doll’s House.” Fifteen years later, Nora — now a successful novelist and an independent woman — returns to the family to finalize her divorce.

“The show is theatrical in a way we’ve never quite seen on our stages,” Parrish says. “It takes place in the late 19th century, so the costumes and the set are period, but the language is very modern.

“To see (co-stars) Rachel Burttram and Brendan Powers — actually a married couple — spar about the finer points of marriage and the roles we play in society is just so satisfying to watch.”

There were challenges in filming both productions, of course. Florida Rep is used to producing live theater, not professional quality video (although it always films video of its productions for its own archive).

“Editing, sound capture and filming were challenges, but our team rose to them with a great deal of care and professionalism,” Parrish says. “The work we do is supposed to be experienced live — so in order to get the best possible footage, we needed to do it right.

“It is a Band-Aid solution. Nothing replaces the live exchange of energy. But people love going to the theater, so this allows them to experience the work even without being allowed to gather.”

It took several days to film and edit each play. Parrish says he’s pleased with the results — especially with “A Doll’s House.”

“The quality is quite good,” he says. “We made the decision to mic the actors, because this is a very dense play about words, and it made all the difference in filming.

“Also, we have good cameras. That helps. Rather than one camera filming the whole stage, we were able to get close-ups. … The ability to see a close-up makes a difference.”

Both productions have a limited run online. “Every Brilliant Thing” is only available until 11:59 p.m. Sunday. “A Doll’s House” expires after 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 22.

Each production costs $39 to watch — the same price as preview tickets. Ticket holders for the canceled shows can also convert their tickets to digital passes.

The recorded plays are helping Florida Rep recoup some of its losses from canceled shows, including the play “Ripchord” (which wasn’t able to be filmed).

“It is a way to support the Rep and its artists even without being able to come to the theater,” Parrish says. “The truth is with three cancelled productions, we will take a huge hit well into the multiple hundreds of thousands.

“The streaming productions will not sell enough to make up for the lost revenue, so anything it brings in is really just an effort to stem the flow of money in the opposite direction. It’s a gesture of goodwill and one small way we can fight to keep the Rep alive into next season.”

For more information or to buy digital passes, call 332-4488 or visit floridarep.org.

Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter), @crunnells1 (Instagram)