Aurora’s Cyber Stage delivers theater at home

If necessity is the mother of invention, and the show must go on, of course, then, to paraphrase another well-known truism, all the worldwide web is a stage.

Back in mid-March, when metro Atlanta’s performing arts organizations began temporarily closing up shop in an effort to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the powers that be at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville — like all of their other colleagues around town — were forced to start thinking outside the boxes of their respective venues.

As Aurora associate artistic director Justin Anderson recalls, “The challenge to us as artists and storytellers suddenly became, not so much a matter of worrying about being out of sight (and) out of mind, but a genuine desire to remain present and connected to our community. It was about identifying what resources were available to us, and figuring out ways to continue providing a degree of communication and engagement with our audience.”

The result is an ongoing series of digital programs initially launched in April, prerecorded episodes that are posted on the Aurora website, in addition to social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube: on Tuesdays, props designer and set dresser, Cody Russell, presents the arts-and-crafts show “Cody’s Crafting Corner”; every Thursday, different familiar Aurora faces read popular children’s books as part of “Aurora Storytime”; and in “Friday Funday,” members of the company’s teaching staff host various instructional theater games.

Beginning this month, Aurora is extending the virtual series to include Cyber Stage, a weekly event featuring members of its apprentice acting company. Directed and curated by Anderson, the original shows (written by up-and-coming playwrights) are streamed live via the video conferencing platform Zoom. Each play is performed one time only (on Wednesdays), followed by an interactive Q&A between the program’s cast/panelists and the audience/attendees.

Last week’s inaugural effort, Jason Pizzarello’s timely “Home Schooled,” was admittedly raw. “The whole process is still evolving,” Anderson concedes. “Between our minimal rehearsals (due to social distancing) and all the technical considerations, we’re still wrapping our heads around a lot of the variables involved. There’s bound to be a certain amount of trial and error, as we discover how to use this new platform to the best of its ability.”

Even so, "Maybe it's just out of a sense of curiosity, but we had nearly 300 people checking in at some point during that first show, so clearly there's some sort of hunger or appetite for this. In these uncertain times, it's definitely a balm for the actors, too," he says.

Upcoming installments in the Cyber Stage series include this week’s “Do You Read Me?” (by Kathryn Funkhouser), a sci-fi comedy about a diverse colony of citizens living on Mars, under the watchful eye of NASA. “The Internet is Distract — Oh, Look, a Kitten!” (by Ian McWethy) involves a young student struggling to maintain her focus while researching a term paper online. And in “Bad Auditions…On Camera” (by Ian and Carrie McWethy), a casting director seeks to replace the lead in a prime-time series, with the help of a little audience feedback.

“These might not be the most challenging or thought-provoking scripts, but they share a common levity (and) offer a great opportunity to open up the creative possibilities of telling stories in another format,” Anderson maintains. “It’s all about capturing an essence of live theater, only through a different lens.”


Cyber Stage

Through May 27. Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Attendance is free, but reservations are required.

Viewing links will be provided via email on the day of each show: "Do You Read Me?" (May 13); "The Internet is Distract – Oh, Look, a Kitten!" (May 20); "Bad Auditions…On Camera" (May 27). For more information: