A virtual OutCast: Local theater company embraces streaming season

— Created September 23, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

 It’s tough to have a theater season when live performances are banned. The answer – although not a permanent one – is video streaming.

OutCast Productions (OCP) has just announced it will indeed have a 2020 season, it just won’t be in its theater in Langley. It will be anywhere audiences have the ability to livestream. Beginning Friday, audiences have the opportunity to stream OutCast’s 2017 production of “Ghostdrivers, the Musical.” Opportunities to stream two more productions will follow about every six weeks.

OCP Artistic Director, Ned Farley, said the theater company has the opportunity to offer up past productions because of the way the organization is structured.

“Around June we began having conversations about how we might use digital platforms to provide some entertainment,” he said. “The issue with theater is that unless you are doing original work, you have to seek permission and pay royalties to produce plays. Fortunately for us, part of our mission is to be an incubator space for new work, with a staged reading slot each year for workshopping a new play or musical. These are productions we film, both for our archives and for the playwrights, who can use them to market their work to other theaters.

“Because of this aspect of our work, we conferred with a handful of playwrights for whom we workshopped and/or premiered their work and received permission to stream some performances and to share any money we made with them,” Farley continued. “This allowed us to build a ‘streaming season.'”

Following a practice run in early July, OCP decided to proceed with the streaming season.

“This gave us the chance to see what worked from a technology standpoint and to then support the purchase of some tech equipment to make it more streamlined in future online performances,” Farley said, adding the plays selected had all been produced between 2015-2019. “We are offering these for a minimum donation of $10 (with the option of donating more); once a donation has been logged on our PayPal site, we can send the link for the performance of choice and we have ourselves a ‘virtual theater.'”

Farley said 2020 season ticket holders can view these productions at no charge, because none of them asked for their money back when the live season was canceled. Those who take part in the experience can log on starting at 7 p.m. on their selected production night; performances will begin streaming promptly at 7:30 p.m.

Farley is hoping this streaming season will help grow support for OCP, now in its  10th year.

“What we hope for is that our patrons (and hopefully some new audience members) can at least feel a connection to the theater and to have some entertainment outside of what they are seeing on TV,” he said. “I see this as a new entertainment form, and one that will be a learning process for all of us. It is not an attempt to look like TV or movies either, so in many ways it is a hybrid form that we hope over time to get better at, and it may become another offering to expand our audience base.”

While there is much to celebrate about being able to have a virtual season, Farley said it can never replace the real thing.

“Let’s be clear – digital performance is not, and never will be, the same experience as sitting in the theater,” he said. “Even when we have the opportunity at some point to have actors in the theater on stage, we may not be able to have an audience. With social distancing, our theater is too small to make that financially viable, as we will still have to pay for the rights to produce.”

While OutCast Productions is in decent shape financially, Farley said that won’t last forever, so it was important to come up with ways to keep the theater company solvent. But he admits there has been some benefit, despite the challenges of navigating 2020.

“We had to pivot rather quickly to make sure we would survive,” he said. “We don’t have any paid employees, as our creative artists are mostly paid stipends for their time. This was actually going to be our first season where we would pay actors stipends as well. What it has given us an opportunity to do is think creatively outside the normal theater box, which will benefit us in the long run.”

Other productions slated for the streaming season include “The Hotel Belleclaire” in November and “Over My Dead Body” in December. Tickets and information can be found at outcastproductions.net. In the meantime, Farley said he’ll be happy to get back to normal, whenever that comes.

“I can’t wait to actually get back in the theater with all of our creative team and patrons,” he said. “I’m beginning to frame what our delayed 10th anniversary season will look like, although I’m not quite ready to announce it. It will be exciting though!”