T2 Coming Back To Live: ‘Murder’ leads to a ‘Wedding’ celebration

T2 Coming Back To Live: ‘Murder’ leads to a ‘Wedding’ celebration



Last week, TheatreSquared released its “State of the Theatre 2021,” an announcement that detailed the season selection shuffle necessitated by the continuing covid-19 health crisis. Through a feat of nimble scheduling, the company is packing in all of the shows that were promised in 2020 and a few more, to boot. Despite the challenges of a difficult year, T2 has shown the remarkable ability to make the tastiest of lemonade out of the most sour of lemons: By summer 2020, the company mastered the art of streaming theater, and a trying year ended with glowing T2 notices in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, with the latter newspaper’s theater critic, Terry Teachout, even noting, “I plan to keep an eye on TheatreSquared, which is clearly worth its fine reputation.”

In short, the “State of the Theatre” for T2 is looking much better than might have been predicted this time last year.

“One year ago this week, we celebrated the unveiling of TheatreSquared’s 15th anniversary season,” says T2 Artistic Director Robert Ford. “Two weeks later, we suspended performances. Since then, topping our list of goals has been one simple one: Don’t let covid win.”

James Taylor Odom and Brian Walters star in TheatreSquare’s production of “Murder for Two,” a murder mystery/musical/comedy the company first produced to great success in the 2014-15 season. It’s scheduled to be the last online-only show for T2 for 2021. In April, the company will return to live performances with online options.
(Courtesy Photo/Wesley Hitt for T2)

No doubt, the year hasn’t been as easy as T2 has made it look. Ford says the latest version of the season took many rounds of revisions on the part of all T2 staff members.

“As we revised our performance calendar, we started with Option A, then Option B and soon ran out of letters in the alphabet,” he says. “Adding high-definition filming to our core competencies was key to getting productions moving again. We moved small-cast shows to the front of the line. Due to the complexity of safety measures, musicals moved later on the calendar. By January, we’d developed strong enough testing and safety protocols to take on more ambitious projects. ‘School Girls,’ for example, brought together a cast of eight, plus director and designers, from Northwest Arkansas and across the country. We’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with the actors’ and directors’ unions to customize covid protocols for each show — including most recently our 40-page safety plan to film the musical ‘Murder for Two.’

“Our lineup through the end of 2021 closely follows the guidance of public health experts to plan for a gradual, safe and incremental return to in-person activities as cases diminish and gathering restrictions ease. Stream-only offerings make way for hybrid, distanced performances and gradually move towards larger-scale productions like ‘Matilda: The Musical,’ ‘American Mariachi’ and ‘Designing Women.’”

In addition to savvy scheduling and flexibility, perhaps the biggest secret to T2’s successful pivot this past year was its full embrace of streaming performances. Through performances easily accessible to viewers in the safety and comfort of their own homes, T2 was able to reach its established audiences as well as engage viewers who might not have heard of the company prior to the pandemic.

“Murder for Two” was a huge success for T2 when it was first staged in the 2015-16 season. The New York Times called it “an ingenious miniature musical in the form of a snazzy vaudevillian double-act” that “spins out a curlicued comic mystery story animated by funny, deftly turned songs.”
(Courtesy Photo/Wesley Hitt for T2)

“By the time we open ‘Murder for Two,’ we’ll be on our 10th streaming project — an unbelievable level of activity, really, including five brand-new plays presented via Zoom and five filmed productions streamed from the stage,” says T2 Executive Director Martin Miller. “Nationally, T2’s streaming productions made quite a splash, landing in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many other outlets. The coverage drove quite a bit of digital attendance. We’ve also had surprising success finding new audiences — or really, with new audiences finding us. We’re a theater in Arkansas with new season ticketholders in Wisconsin. We’ve had folks watching actors on stage in Fayetteville while sitting in their homes in Egypt. In all, more than 15,000 people have bought a ticket to a TheatreSquared production this year who live nowhere near our theater.”

While expanding an audience base in the middle of a global pandemic is astonishing, Miller also tips his hat in gratitude to T2’s subscribers who, he says, have remained loyal and supportive throughout the crisis.

“The most meaningful vote of confidence came from our subscribers, nearly three-quarters of whom stayed with us during the pandemic,” he says. “Of course, box office revenue is nowhere near a typical season, and no one wants to fully replace the live, in-person experience. But once we’re on the other side of this, the digital experience will eventually be about addition, not replacement, and help give access to people who otherwise would be too far away or otherwise unable to attend.”

Another relationship important to a theater company while producing in a global pandemic is the one with its actors. For T2, a regional theater that casts performers from all over the world, that means trusting that those artists coming from different regions are as careful with covid-19 protocols as possible.

“We’ve mentioned how resilient our audiences have been through this crisis, but I also want to acknowledge how incredible the artists have been,” says Ford. “Our safety plans have been rigorous, typically included testing for all participants every three days, strict [personal protective equipment] and quarantine protocols. Actors have generously shared in this mutual responsibility and, through it, T2 has developed a strong reputation for being a careful and caring employer of artists.”

In-person shows will resume in April with T2’s production of “At the Wedding.” Miller says all possible safety measures will be in place for that momentous occasion.

“We’ve taken comprehensive steps to maximize safety at our state-of-the-art theater, with fresh air resupplied at an air-change rate exceeding six times per hour, MERV-13 filtration, universal [personal protective equipment] requirements and frequent testing of all artists and crew by our on-staff medical provider. All of our plans are continually reviewed by an infectious disease specialist and cleared by safety teams at multiple unions. We’ve built trust along with a company and building, and we plan to continue to earn it as folks return to the theater.”

As the company looks back even as it forges ahead, the secret to T2’s success seems to be a blend of flexibility and resiliency.

“It’s been a tough year, but we’ve also marked unexpected, welcome successes, with our acclaimed streaming programs ranked among the year’s best by The New York Times , the 2020 American Architecture Award and superlative national reviews,” says Miller. “This year, we’ve learned to have humility about our assumptions about what we know, can plan for or control. Sometimes our guesses were wrong, and we bore the weight of that on ourselves. But we’ve also learned that our team is among the best in the business — in any business — and that our community has incredible patience and generosity. Our people — artists, staff and audiences — are resilient. They didn’t deserve to be tested in this way, but they passed with flying colors anyway.”




2021 Season

‘Murder for Two’

March 17-April 25

Everyone’s a suspect in this multi-award-winning musical comedy revived by TheatreSquared in its brand-new home five years after its original debut. A small-town policeman dreams of making it to detective — and one fateful night, his opportunity arrives in the form of a dead Great American novelist. One actor investigates, the other plays every suspect, and both play the piano in this whip-smart, winking homage to an old-fashioned theatrical murder mystery. (Streaming)

‘At the Wedding’

April 28-June 13

A hilarious, rough-edged new comedy from one of America’s most exciting new voices, Bryna Turner, initially developed at TheatreSquared as part of the Arkansas New Play Festival. Carlo is going to be really well behaved today. She’s not going to get drunk. She’s not going to give any long-winded speeches. And she’s definitely not going to try to steal the bride back. (Live & streaming)

‘My Father’s War’

May 26-June 20

When she puts on her father’s old helmet in her husband Bob Ford’s drama, Amy Herzberg is plunged into a world at war. It’s the funny, harrowing and deeply moving story of a Jewish kid from Chicago’s North Side who landed at Normandy on D-Day and fought through to the Battle of the Bulge. As Pvt. Herzberg survives one near-death experience after another through luck, chutzpah and sheer comic timing, his daughter chases down the one story that still haunts him. (Live & streaming)

‘Matilda: The Musical’

June 23-July 18

A riotously acclaimed, five-time Tony Award winner, “Matilda” is an international phenomenon. TheatreSquared reimagines for Northwest Arkansas the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny. (Live only)

‘American Mariachi’

Aug. 4-Aug. 29

A hilarious and heartwarming new music-filled comedy about the freedom to dream big. It’s the 1970s, and Lucha spends her days caring for her ailing mother but longs to shake up her life. When a forgotten record album sparks her mother’s memory, Lucha and her cousin strike upon a radical idea: to create an all-female mariachi band. (Live & streaming)

‘Designing Women’

Sept. 22-Oct. 24

A world premiere play by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason brings the megahit television series to life for our current age. Teeming with raucous hilarity and channeling the series’ one-of-a-kind, trademark voice, “Designing Women” sets out to re-unite its audience in laughter. (Live & streaming)


Nov. 17-Dec. 12

From the Tony Award-winning composer of “Fun Home” comes a powerhouse Broadway musical — winner of the Lucille Lortel, Obie, and Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical and a five-time Tony nominee. It’s 1964. When Violet hops onto a Greyhound bus traveling across Arkansas towards a miracle in Tulsa — the healing touch of a TV evangelist who will make her beautiful — it turns into the journey of a lifetime. (Live & streaming)

INFO — 777-7477 or theatre2.org

Categories: Theater