Thursday, December 24, 2020

2020 - A Year In Review

Looking back on 2020 has been painful and, frankly, a little strange. Time somehow lost its meaning this year as both March and the last month of the election seemed to last for years in and of themselves. 

Many of our ensemble members experienced deep losses - from jobs to apartments to family members. Moving all of our operations to Zoom also created its own kind of difficulty. Not only is it difficult to create theater this way, but as miraculous as Zoom has been, it has also increased social anxieties and blurred work/home-life boundaries to many who use it. 

However, there have been some “wins” that we’ve experienced, and we have many things to be grateful for. Most of all, we appreciate our audiences who have been flexible, curious, and committed to seeing what was possible amidst the barriers created by the pandemic. Without your support and encouragement, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve even half of what we created this year.

And now, for a breakdown of 2020:

1st Quarter
January-March 2020 

The year started brilliantly. We opened the first production of the season in February - a sold-out run of our world premiere ANIMAL FARM, an adaptation of the novel by George Orwell written by our very own Brandon Walker. Animal Farm, an allegorical play, tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy.

The play featured four actors - Laura Clare Browne, Erin Cronican, Will Ketter, and Brandon Walker - playing 27 roles, many of whom were played on the actors’ hand and feet. The estate of George Orwell eagerly approved our script and sanctioned our production. The Orwell Society came to see the show and related to its members: “Make the effort [to see it.] It will be worth it. And you have heard that straight from the horse’s mouth.” 

Theater Critics also said:

"I enjoyed it more than the short-lived Broadway production of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four a few years ago." - Opplaud

“Masterful enactment...a smashing way for this group to mark their landmark 10th season." - Short and Sweet NYC

"More timely than ever." - Thinking Theater

"Pulling off Animal Farm with four actors is just the kind of dare The Seeing Place would gravitate towards." - Talkin' Broadway


The cast of ANIMAL FARM.

2nd Quarter
April-June 2020

We had begun pre-production for our 2nd live show, Eugene Ionesco’s EXIT THE KING, when the shutdown in NYC started. Like many, we did not know how long the shutdown would last, so we faithfully moved our pre-production discovery sessions online, with the cast and creative team approximating the work we do in-person through the lens of the web camera. After several weeks of work, we started to see that the shutdown would be lasting much longer than anticipated. We gathered with our ensemble to discuss the possibility of performing the play online. Collectively, we determined that due to the physical nature of the storytelling, the production would be served best as an in-person performance. So we put this particular play - and the rest of the season - on hiatus.

If we weren’t going to perform our season as planned, we asked ourselves what else could we do online that would help engage our patrons and fulfill on our mission to help audiences “see themselves”? Our answer was to recreate our Education and Outreach program for the online world. In late March and all of April and May, we held three classes/outreach events per week to hundreds of participants across the globe, from professional level acting classes to our community Drama Book Club which explored plays from a literary perspective. 

Participants in our "Introduction to Linklater" course, led by TSP member Jon L Peacock (center)

Participants in our Drama Book Club, led by TSP members Erin Cronican and Brandon Walker

In May we were honored by the Indie Theater Fund with an unrestricted grant to help us with loss of income due to the pandemic. We’re very grateful for their unending support of independent theater in NYC.

In late May, our collective world stopped with the death of George Floyd. We immediately put a pause on our programming and took a long, hard look at our practices to begin to eradicate any racism in our programming and operations. Our board and staff released our Solidarity Statement for Black Lives Matter (read here) and we also created a broader Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement (read here.) We continue to grow and learn through the work of our tireless Black brothers and sisters - to start, we're educating ourselves through books, articles, videos, and panel discussions - as well as the two month anti-racist training course being provided by the Indie Theater Fund.

This work will never be done. Until our racist systems are replaced, equity is common, and restitution is made, white supremacy will always seep into the practices of theaters and other organizations. We can only promise that we will keep educating ourselves, listening to Black and Brown people, and making changes based on what we learn.

3rd Quarter
July-September 2020

Because of the civic unrest related to Mr Floyd’s death plus the countless others including Breonna Taylor, Brandon and Erin sat down to discuss the possibility of creating a social justice program as an extension of our season. In it we would address a key social issue, partner with an organization currently fighting to address that key issue, and help our audience take action steps to make a difference in this area. Thus, the Ripple For Change Series was borne. 

The inspiration for the program name came from this quote:  

“You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change.” - Tim Cook

Each RIPPLE FOR CHANGE AWARD comes with the following: 
• a financial prize worth $1000 or more for a chosen non-profit
• a benefit performance in the non-profit's honor using a play that mirrors the efforts of the recipient organization
• promotion and support as an official Ripple For Change Award Winner

The first production in this series was DUTCHMAN by LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka.) DUTCHMAN presents a stylized encounter that illustrates hatred between Blacks and whites in America as well as the political and psychological conflicts facing Black American men in the 1960s. We chose to benefit Black Theatre Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration and preservation of the theatrical visions of the African Diaspora.

The play was performed live via Zoom and streamed via YouTube, and featured Broadway greats Timothy Ware and Eugene Barry Hill, along with Erin Cronican and Brandon Walker. The cast received a glowing review in the New York Times for our timeless and relevant work (including photos on the front page of the Arts section. Read the review here.)

Other critics raved about it as well:

"The Seeing Place's reading of Baraka's scathing work about an encounter in a New York City subway car between a white woman and a Black man premiered on the same day that civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis died and even his colleagues' tributes unintentionally highlighted the pervasiveness of racism in America as well as the continued urgency of the kinds of conversations that productions such as Dutchman can foster...Both Ware and Cronican are excellent." - Thinking Theater NYC 

"Dutchman is so relevant at this moment of protest of Black Lives Matter and is a testament of the power of great writing of Mr. Baraka. Both actors are great, very moving and absorbing in their roles. The heat of the day and the heat of the play got to me. I loved the reading." - Hi Drama

Hundreds of people took part in our production of DUTCHMAN as audience members and as participants in our panel discussion: Race in America: Action Steps. (Click to watch the panel discussion.) With this, we knew that the series was important and there to stay. 

The summer was very hard for many people across the nation. Many people lost their jobs, and there was an epidemic of homelessness - especially in the LGTBQ community whose youths were being kicked out of their homes at an alarming rate. So we decided that the second production of the Ripple for Change series would William Shakespeare’s comedy A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, presented as a LGTBQIA+ story with a woman playing the character of Lysander and the characters of Puck and Oberon being genderfluid. The production benefited The Ali Forney Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ youths from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to live independently.

The play was performed live via Zoom and streamed via YouTube, with performances by guest artist Dan Mack and 7 members of The Seeing Place’s permanent ensemble (Laura Clare Browne, Erin Cronican, Elli DiLorenzo, Will Ketter, Jon L Peacock, Brandon Walker and Weronika Helena Wozniak) with original music by the incomparable Randi Driscoll. The play was named “Best Theater to Stream Online” by Timeout New York, and “What To Watch” by Times Square Chronicles. Critics loved the imaginative production which utilized fantastical technical elements only possible online:

"The Seeing Place Theater’s Zoom production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps the best Zoom work I’ve seen so far..." - Ewing Reviewing

"The Seeing Place Theater, now in its tenth season, offers indeed a talented ensemble of actors in a delightful late-summer mounting made for Zoom." - Broadway World

"The creativity artists are showing as they play with this new format is, honestly, delightful. Overall, this is a very enjoyable production of Midsummer, and it couldn’t be for a better cause." - Bitter Gertrude

We had a wonderful panel discussion: Action Steps: How to Address Homelessness in the LGTBQIA+ Youth Community, introduced by Carlina Rivera, New York City Councilwoman District 2 (Click here to watch the panel discussion.)


In May we were honored by the Ravenal Foundation with a surprise unrestricted grant to help us with loss of income due to the pandemic, which we were immediately able to allocate toward artist salaries for our production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.

4th Quarter
October-December 2020

The end of the 3rd Quarter brought the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was devastating for many including the members of our ensemble. We began to brainstorm about ways to honor her legacy, and we realized that one of her greatest contributions to society was her voice for women. In the face of the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, we decided to present a play about women’s reproductive rights.

In October and November we presented Pulitzer Prize finalist KEELY AND DU by Jane Martin. KEELY AND DU is a volatile drama about abortion rights: Du is a right-to-life activist, and Keely is the pregnant rape victim Du is confining to keep her from having an abortion. Through the play these two women find a way to transcend their circumstances and the ideological issues that separate them.

The play featured guest artist Audrey Heffernan Meyer and TSP ensemble members Erin Cronican, Robin Friend, Olivia Hanna Hardin, and Brandon Walker. It benefited Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St Louis Region, a non-profit specializing in women’s reproductive health, specifically abortion services. In addition to being the only state-licensed abortion facility in Missouri for many years, RHS is the longest standing non-profit abortion provider in the state of Missouri.

The critics, again, were blown away by what we were able to create via Zoom:

"The excellent company pulled this viewer into the situation so intensely that he found himself yelling at Walter and Du in Keely's defense. Naturally, a staged production would more effectively present pivotal physical moments, but The Seeing Place greatly succeeds in offering an emotionally rich episode of personal and political theatre." - Broadway World 

 "Astonishing, marvelous, engaging, truthful and downright comic at times."- Theater Life 

 "The Seeing Place Theater has done it again with their rendition of Keely and Du...The virtual set is dark and mysterious enough to fit the eerie mood of the performance...The end of the play is quite surprising and relevant to today’s discussions surrounding reproductive rights."- Manhattan With A Twist

We finished the production with a panel discussion: Action Steps for Protecting Women's Choices. (Click here to watch the panel discussion.) 

The cast of KEELY AND DU.

In December we were named a "Recommended Charity" by The Stern Opportunity - a group of MBA scholars in NYC - in their roundup of their favorite places for people who are looking for ways to give back.

It’s now the end of the year, and looking back we’re stunned at what we’ve been able to do while so hampered by this awful pandemic. It’s a testament to the resolve of our artists and the openness of our audiences to keep innovating when road blocks were and continue to be presented. 

Looking ahead to 2021  

What’s in store for 2021? We’ll plan to present four plays via the Ripple For Change program, relaunch our online Education and Outreach Program, and - COVID willing - return to the live stage for two in-person productions in the latter half of the year. 

In the meantime, please: 

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Click here to make a donation so that we can continue to bring our work to you.

We wish you health. We wish you joy. We wish you a plethora of great theater, both online and in-person when the pandemic clears. Happy holidays! 

Erin Cronican, 
and the Ensemble and Board of The Seeing Place Theater