Coronavirus impact: Bay Area live theaters stream performances online to stay afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- The novel coronavirus pandemic means disaster for live theaters around the Bay Area, but it is also creating an unusual opportunity for you to stream shows online.

Many of the Bay Area's small to mid-sized live theaters are facing big financial challenges, but some that acted quickly are getting at least a temporary lifeline from streaming.

Live theater in the Bay Area was shut down in mid-March when large gatherings were banned, but the rules requiring people to stay six feet apart had not yet started. So several theaters scrambled to get the actors together to make videos of current performances and stream them online.

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A few performances are free, but most theaters are charging at least something, hoping audiences will want to see the show and help theaters stay afloat at the same time. Streamed theater shows mostly run for just a few days or weeks because of licensing rights and union rules, so if you want to see them, you have to act quickly.

The Marin Theatre Company is streaming a show called "Love." It is a modern production about sexual harassment that had just opened to great reviews where theaters were shut down. Tickets to stream it are on sale through April 11.

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Most of the show's actors and crew are getting paid as if the show were still running live, but Marin Theatre's next move is uncertain.

"I think all of us that work in the business are terrified quite honestly about what's going to happen to the art form" said Jasson Minadakis, artistic director of the Marin Theater Company.

"A lot of companies like ours are being forced to consider layoffs and to make layoffs and also to put people on furlough. We were lucky that the federal stimulus bill came through and we were able to know what a lot of people are able to make once they're not working full time for the organization anymore."

At Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, Anton Chekhov's classic play "The Cherry Orchard" was in the middle of its live run when the theater had to close. Artistic director Susan Evans says they have a warm response from people who are now streaming the show both in the Bay Area and from as far away as Florida. It will be available through April 18.

"It means a lot to people. Theater is alive right now. It's in a different form right now, but it is alive," Evans said. Town Hall Theatre has had to reduce some staff hours, but it's children's theater program is still going strong with classes online.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley was in a particularly good position for streaming because the management had already been working on a deal to put a past production online through a service called Streaming Musicals.

The show, a musical version of "Pride and Prejudice," ran during the holidays last year and will be available for streaming starting on Friday, April 10. It will be free that day, but after that, you have to pay. For more information, you can view the website here.

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The company's executive director believes TheatreWorks itself will survive the pandemic shutdown, but he worries about the future for the many freelancers who are critical to the business.

"Right now if you are an actor in this country, you are probably unemployed. All theaters are closed, film production is shut down, TV production is largely shutdown" he said. That goes for many other behind the scenes crew members as well.

So far most of TheaterWorks staff is still working - and not just on theatre projects. The costume shop is making masks with leftover fabric to donate to the community.

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