A show Friday night at Evanston’s Studio 5 performance and dance center flips the recent reality of theater on its head.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, live theater either closed down, or found a way to stay alive via online platforms.
That’s what Studio 5 director Steve Rashid was able to do. If you can’t take the show on the road, take the road to the show.
“I contacted performers all over the country, because everybody was at home” with not much else to do, and no way to make a living without a performance venue, said the Emmy winning composer and producer.
So, for several months during the pandemic, Rashid and a series of actors and musicians put on a Zoom performance written by Rashid and his sons Daniel and Robert, called “Into the Mist” (more on the name later).
A tribute to the music, musicians, dancers and writers from the Roaring ’20s, the online audience could click from one of more than a dozen Zoom rooms to another, watching a vaudeville comedy team in one, a magician in another, seeing legendary entertainer Josephine Baker in a different room, and so on. More than a dozen potential rooms to visit.
The show culminated in one big Zoom room, where all on the link would watch a concert from the 1920’s-style “hot jazz” band, the Chicago Cellar Boys.
But now, instead of shifting an in-person show to Zoom, Rashid and his colleagues are taking one designed for Zoom, and shifting it to an in-person audience this Friday night at 8 p.m. at Studio 5.
Some of the actors and musicians from the Zoom show “have performed together online, “Rashid said, “but have never met each other. This [live show] will be the first time.”
Daniel Rashid, a real-life Hollywood actor who played an aspiring young actor named Dusty in the online version, is in the live one as well. “It is special,” he said. “From Zoom to live. I’ve never experienced that.”
Shelby Moran Amarantos was a dancer in the Zoom version (with a previously taped performance), but now, she’ll be dancing live.
While the plot, such as it is (people making various stops before ending up at a Cellar Boys concert) is still the same, the live version, Amarantos said, has a whole new dimension … interactivity.
Instead of just seeing, say, a Josephine Baker character in a Zoom room, or hearing a poem from Langston Hughes, you can meet them (OK, actors portraying them) in person in one of the rooms at Studio 5. Take a dance lesson. Ask about a poem.
“The fun of this live staging,” Amarantos said, “is that we’re not confined to one room. I can wander from one room to another. We have to play off of the audience and see where they are.”
Amarantos said by performers changing rooms, members of the crowd might go “oh, where are they going, let’s go see,” moving the audience from, say, a magician’s room to one more focused on music, with a piano player.
The first hour of the live show is for the audience to go from room to room at Studio 5. You can interact, sing, dance … or just sit and watch. There is even a contortionist in one of the rooms. Watching might be better than interacting there.
In the second hour, everyone goes to the Cellar Boys concert (they’ll be there live as well).
Steve’s son Robert, a musician, is a blackjack dealer in the performance. Daniel is the love-lorn wanna-be actor in “Hollywoodland,” whose girlfriend has been discovered by a studio and is off making a film while Daniel pines for her and looks for his big break.
Daniel’s real-life girlfriend Reilly Anspaugh (also a performer) was in the Zoom version, but now she actually has a job, and so she’s not in the live show. Life imitates art, doesn’t it?
Jazz is obviously a centerpiece in a show about the “Jazz Age.”
And, like jazz, “Into the Mist” has general guidelines on what the actors will do, but there will be improv. As Daniel noted, “we have the form, but, but can also riff and solo and be brought back together at the end.”
The hope is that Friday night’s performance is not the end for “Into the Mist.” If the response is good, and investors are watching, Steve Rashid said a longer-running show could be in the works.
The show is actually set in 1927. Why that year, versus, say, 1924?
Steve Rashid said the head of the Chicago Cellar Boys, Andy Schumm, told him “1927 was the ideal time.”
Babe Ruth was in the process of hitting 60 home runs. Charles Lindberg flew the Atlantic. The first talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, was released.
“Music,” in this case jazz, Steve said, “is a reflection of time and culture.”
Which brings us to the name, “Into the Mist.”
Steve explained that a popular jazz soloist of the 1920s, Bix Beiderbecke, wrote a piano composition called “In a Mist,” so the show’s title plays off that bit of jazz history.
And you might say that if you don’t check out the show, you really will have “Mist” something.
“Our goal,” said Amarantos, “is to have people up and dancing at the end of the evening.”
Ticket information is available online.