As the North Bay continues to stay socially distant due to Covid-19, local theater companies are inventing new ways to perform, including Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater. This week, the acclaimed organization goes online and opens its virtual run of the one-woman play, The Lady With All the Answers.
“Despite the restrictions of COVID-19, we want to provide the community with a unique theater experience, the opportunity to enjoy streaming theater from the comfort of your home,” says Cinnabar Theater executive director Diane Dragone.
Filmed in Cinnabar’s playhouse in Petaluma with a small staff on hand, the show stars Cinnabar veteran Laura Jorgensen as beloved advice columnist Ann Landers, aka Eppie Lederer, the midwestern woman who took over the popular advice column after Ruth Crowley, the creator of the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ask Ann Landers, died in 1955. Lederer wrote the column for 47 years, and she addressed several taboo topics in that time; writing columns about infidelity, addiction, and even the proper way to hang toilet paper.
The Lady With All the Answers is set in 1975 as Lederer struggles to write a particularly personal column. While she tries to find the words to address her readers, Lederer flips through old newspaper clippings and shares them with the theater audience—essentially talking directly to the crowd throughout the show. At one point she even surveys the audience to get their opinion on the toilet paper topic.
That presents a particular challenge to Cinnabar’s new virtual theatrical experience, though the staff and crew–under longtime director Michael Fontaine–have been preparing all summer, and Jorgensen as Lederer learned to interact with the camera as if it was the audience.
Cinnabar Theater was actually one of the first North Bay theater groups to invest in digital video technology, as the Bohemian reported in July, and before working on The Lady With All the Answers, the theater company honed their video skills by presenting two 30-minute episodes of a new online production, “The CinnaTriv Theater Game Show.” Hosted by another Cinnabar veteran, Clark Sterling, the “Jeopardy”-style game, in which three contestants are tested on their knowledge of all things theater, is available to watch on YouTube now.
The Lady with All the Answers begins streaming online Friday, Sept. 18, and features online performances Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm and 7:30pm through Oct. 4. Tickets are $20 for one device or $40 for multiple devices. Ticket sales will offset ongoing expenses and will support the cast and crew, including set designers, lighting designers, stage managers and videographers involved in the production.
“During these uncertain times, it’s important to keep local theater and the arts alive,” Dragone says. “These virtual performances require the same production efforts and cost as their live counterparts. We hope our patrons and the community will discover the same value, joy and entertainment in our virtual productions that we do in creating them. Theater allows us to escape for a time and encourages us to laugh and listen and be connected, even if we can’t be together in person.”