Bristol Riverside Theatre’s 2019-20 mainstage season may have been cut abruptly short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Amy and Ken Kaissar – BRT’s new leadership team – is bringing a virtual taste of the arts to patrons’ homes.
Beginning in June, the duo is launching the “Intermission Series,” which encompasses three interactive online classes. Registrants can learn about the art of storytelling, the history of American theater and how to dress like a star without breaking the bank. Each consists of two or three one-hour sessions via Zoom.
“It’s a great way to appreciate the art form,” said Ken. “It gives them an appreciation for what it means to be an actor, and only enhances their experience of coming to see live theater.”
Amy will teach “The Art of Storytelling,” offered on Mondays, June 1, 8 and 15, at 3 p.m. Cost for the series is $45. Participants will be guided through the fundamentals of storytelling and learn how minor adjustments can make the difference between a hit and a flop.
“By the end of the class, we’re going to start trying it out. Students will actually tell stories,” Amy said.
“American Theatre from Ben Franklin to Oscar Hammerstein” will be led by Ken on Tuesdays, June 2, 9 and 16, at 3 p.m. Cost for this series is $45. Based on his class offered at Rider University, Ken will discuss everything from vaudeville and burlesque to P.T. Barnum and the musical Showboat. Students are encouraged to participate in the discussion.
“I thrive on that interaction,” Ken said. “It walks people through what entertainment was like in the very first few couple of centuries of our country, which I find fascinating.”
Finally, “Dressing Them Up with Linda Bee” will be offered on Thursdays, June 4 and 11, at 3 p.m. Series cost is $30, and class size is limited to five students. Resident costume designer Linda B. Stockton will share her secrets for making performers look fabulous on a tight budget, provide insider tips on bargain hunting in Bucks County, and offer one-on-one consultations as participants show her items from their own closets.
“Linda is like a miracle worker. Every performer who walks through here talks about how happy they are with how they look, and half the time they end up buying the clothing off of her at the end of the show because they want to keep it. And she’s often putting them in things that they wouldn’t pick themselves,” said Amy. “She’s gonna talk about how she does that for different body types.”
The Kaissars encouraged those who are interested in “Intermission Series” classes to register sooner rather than later. However, if the slots do fill up, they plan to offer more online opportunities in the near future.
These classes are in addition to BRT’s first-ever virtual Summer Music Fest on July 1, which will feature five singers and the BRT band, led by artistic director Keith Baker. When someone purchases a ticket, they will be emailed a link to directly view the concert.
“That’s as close to theater as we can come right now,” Ken said. “For anybody who is nervous about coming on that night and having it go OK, Amy and I are going to do a practice log in a couple days before where people can practice using their link.”
For the Kaissars, as well as Baker and founding director Susan D. Atkinson, who are stepping down in August, this transition period is unlike anything they anticipated.
“It’s not the beginning we were expecting, but it’s also not the end that they were expecting,” said Amy.
Cabaret, which got through only a handful of shows before the theater was forced to close its doors, was Baker’s final project as artistic director at BRT. The last show of the season – A Leg Up, written by Ken – was also canceled this year.
“It’s a real shame because it was going to be such a spectacular swan song for him,” Ken said of Cabaret. “He was definitely lamenting that he was looking forward to this show and that it got taken away from him. It makes the whole thing much harder.”
Still, the Kaissars, Baker and Atkinson are making the best of the situation, getting in touch regularly to discuss the future of the theater.
“Our expectations changed a little bit because of this,” said Amy. “Our hope is that we are able to both continue the tradition that Susan and Keith began and fostered for so long, for over 30 years. BRT is a place where the community gathers to think and laugh and feel.”
Though the timeline of when shows can resume remains very much up in the air, the Kaissars cannot wait for that day to come.
“It may be a while, but when we can reopen and fill the theater again with 300 people to watch a performance, I think it’s going to be the most exciting night of my life,” Amy said. “I cannot wait to get crammed in with a bunch of people into a small space to watch a live performance with actors in front of me together. We’re all going to appreciate it that much more for not having had it for this time.”
“What everybody will need is a rip-roaring good time. I think that’s how I’ve changed over this quarantine,” added Ken. “I was looking for scripts that were dramatic and made me feel deeply and were emotional. Now, I’ve got a high premium on just joy and wonderful laughter and comedy. I feel that for a long time, that’s what people are going to need.”
Visit tickets.brtstage.org/subscription/packages.aspx?utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=IntermissionSeries&utm_content=version_A to register for the “Intermission Series” and Summer Music Fest.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org