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Alliance announces 2020-2021 offerings

"Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience," part of the Alliance Theatre's 2020-2021 season, brings the humor of the Mo Willems children's book to the stage. Courtesy of Alliance Theatre
"Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience," part of the Alliance Theatre's 2020-2021 season, brings the humor of the Mo Willems children's book to the stage. Courtesy of Alliance Theatre

Credit: Alliance Theatre

Credit: Alliance Theatre

Virtual, live and drive-in drama mark COVID-savvy season.

After a summer of darkness, when the Alliance Theatre turns on the lights, they will shine on a very different place.

“There is no choice,” said Susan V. Booth, artistic director of Atlanta’s Tony-winning flagship theater. “The way we make theater is fundamentally altered, and the trick is — and I’m going to say this as if I’m already successful at it — not to waste any energy thinking about how we used to do it.”

How they used to do it came before a global virus, quarantines, lockdowns, social upheaval, demonstrators in the streets, rampant unemployment, a hurting economy and the precipitous death of nightlife.

“Given these realities, how do we best, most safely, most full-throated-engage-ably, create theatre?” Booth asked.

One answer, for the new 2020-2021 season, announced Wednesday morning, is instituting such safety measures as a 200-person limit on audiences, careful crowd control, staggered queuing times, stringent hygiene and no-touch ticketing. The nature of the productions themselves will also be different as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The season begins with a one-woman show, “A Very Terry Christmas.” The productions become more complex later in the season, culminating in the full-on musical about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Accidental Heroes,” at a time when Booth hopes the disease will be under greater control and the Alliance can put a full cast onstage.

Terry Burrell's one-woman holiday show, "A Very Terry Christmas" helps kick off the Alliance Theatre's 2020-2021 season. Photo courtesy the Alliance Theatre
Terry Burrell's one-woman holiday show, "A Very Terry Christmas" helps kick off the Alliance Theatre's 2020-2021 season. Photo courtesy the Alliance Theatre

One of the inventions for the new season is a transformation of that warhorse of Atlanta theater, “A Christmas Carol.”

“At this point, it’s not safe to have actors working in close physical connection with one another, it isn’t in the cards right now,” said Booth. “So how can we tell this story?”

The answer is to turn the Charles Dickens chestnut into a drive-in live radio play, sort of like “A Prairie Home Companion” performed in a parking lot. The audience, watching from their cars, will see the cast members performing multiple parts, while the action is blown up on a huge video screen for those vehicles in the back row.

A musician, a foley artist (producing the rattling chains of Marley), a small cast, all will put on a show meant for a cast of dozens, in an era when it is too dangerous for a huge cast to share a stage.

Recent Spelman graduate Alexis Woodard is co-director of "Hands Up," an Alliance production for the 2020-2021 season that examines black life  in the era of Michael Brown and George Floyd. Photo courtesy of the Alliance Theatre
Recent Spelman graduate Alexis Woodard is co-director of "Hands Up," an Alliance production for the 2020-2021 season that examines black life in the era of Michael Brown and George Floyd. Photo courtesy of the Alliance Theatre

Re-thinking the season allowed some positives, said Booth. One of those was to kick off the new year with “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights 7 Testaments.” The drama created in the aftermath of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2015, was recreated in 2020 by Spelman College students as part of the Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab, an Alliance initiative to encourage young playwrights.

In the midst of the current protests over the killing of George Floyd, “There is no time that could be more relevant than right now,” said recent Spelman graduate Alexis Woodard, who co-directs the drama with her former teacher, Spelman professor Keith Arthur Bolden.

The play will be preceded by a series of online community conversations, said Bolden, aimed at “humanizing” the issues at hand.

The theater does not break even when the auditorium is one-third full, said Booth, but she added, “There is a long-arc conversation to be had. If we disappear from people’s awareness and habits entirely, then we’ll never have a sustaining business model. We were not going to hibernate.”

In addition to live theater, the Alliance plans a series of streaming events, including the hit musical production “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience,” which had just opened at the Alliance last March when the city shut down.

"Toni Stone," a drama based on the true story of the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues,  is among the offerings in the Alliance Theatre's 2020-2021 season. Photo: Alliance Theatre
"Toni Stone," a drama based on the true story of the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, is among the offerings in the Alliance Theatre's 2020-2021 season. Photo: Alliance Theatre

Credit: Alliance Theatre

Credit: Alliance Theatre

Following the spring’s theme, which is the celebration of heroes, is the final Alliance 2020-2021 play, “Toni Stone,” about the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues.

The Alliance Theatre’s 2020-2021 season includes:

“A Very Terry Christmas” (November-December 2020)

In this one-woman show, Broadway star and writer Terry Burrell delivers the songs of the season with a live band led by pianist Tyrone Henderson, presented on the Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

“A Christmas Carol: The Live Radio Play” (December 2020)

At a parking lot yet to be determined, a small cast of Alliance actors assisted by a musician and a sound-effects “foley” artist will recreate the Dickens classic live before a drive-in audience.

“Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments” (February 2021)

Presented on the Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance, this play was commissioned by the New Black Fest after the 2015 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. It has been reimagined by a group of Spelman students as a full ensemble performance.

“Data” (March-April 2021)

Matthew Libby’s play is the winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. It explores the real-life consequences of the data-gathering corporate giants that set the pace of contemporary life, and in its world premiere will be presented on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

“Accidental Heroes: The Real-Life Adventures of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans” (April-May 2021)

The world premiere of this musical by Marshall Brickman and T-Bone Burnett details the unlikely rise of Hollywood’s Western stars, presented on the Coca-Cola Stage.

“Toni Stone” (June-July 2021)

Toni Stone was the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, also making her the first woman to play professionally in a men’s league. Declared the best new play of 2019 by the Wall Street Journal, “Toni Stone” was written by Lydia R. Diamond and is directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden; it will be presented on the Coca-Cola Stage.

The Alliance’s presentations for young audiences include five digital presentations:

“Sit In,” (October 2020), by Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage, introduces three friends as they learn about the sit-ins of the civil rights era, and apply those lessons to issues they face today.

“In My Granny’s Garden” (October 2020), an audio play by Pearl Cleage and Zaron Burnett Jr. invites a very young audience to explore the world of growing their own food.

“Knock, Knock: The Sounds of Winter” (November-December 2020), an audio play, lets youngsters hear the excitement of the approaching holidays through the sounds of the people in a single apartment house.

“Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience” (January-February, 2021) transforms the Mo Willems children’s book into a rock musical.

The Sounds of the West End” (March-April 2021) this audio play takes young visitors on a trip through the historic Atlanta neighborhood.

For more information, call 404-733-5000 or visit alliancetheatre.org.