LOGAN – When the Lyric Repertory Company’s summer season opens on Wednesday, artistic producer Paul T. Mitri predicts that those productions will be “experiments in seeing what the new bounds of live performance are going to be in the future.”
The Lyric’s schedule is filled with a diversity-oriented selection of shows staged in non-traditional production styles.
“We definitely wanted to challenge ourselves and challenge our audiences,” Mitri explains. “But we also had to abide by the limitations (imposed by Utah State University) on what we were allowed to do (due to the coronavirus).
“We called our shows ‘staged readings,’ which is a really wide-open term of art. That gave us the flexibility to perform even if it had to be an actor in a box with a microphone and three people in the audience.
“But, as things stand now, we can open it up. Our performers can move. They can interact. We can have audiences.”
The Lyric’s 2021 lineup of shows was very much influenced by the frankly bleak pandemic conditions back in January when they were selected, according to Mitri. For that reason, the upcoming productions lean toward small-cast, no-frills shows. But improving conditions have given the repertory company more freedom to experiment with staging strategies.
Mitri says that the upcoming production of “All the Way” is a prime example of such innovation.
“All the Way” is the prequel to the Lyric’s ambitious 2019 production of “The Great Society.” The play dramatizes the efforts of President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the 1964 Civil Right Act during his brief first term of office.
Back in January, it appeared that the Lyric would have to present “All the Way” using ZOOM technology.
“But Richie Call (a USU theater professor who plays the role of LBJ), very rightly and very bravely, said ‘No way!’,” Mitri recalls. “He knew that we had to make the leap out of ZOOM because nobody was going to want to sit through that. Richie said ‘I’ll be live’ and everyone else will be shown digitally.
“So it’s a one-man show that lasts three hours, with Richie up there all alone. All the other performers’ parts will be pre-recorded and shown on screens in the background.
“That means that Richie is performing without a safety net. He can’t afford to miss even a single line. It’s the most courageous thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
Mitri suggests that the upcoming production of “All the Way” may also be a preview of where all live theater is going in this new world after COVID-19.
“Obviously, we don’t want theater to go completely digital,” he argues. “That’s not live theater. But we need to explore how digital technology can play a bigger role. What we’ve found in using digital technology is that we can collaborate with people all over the country and the world. And you can also reach audiences all over the country and all over the world.”
Another interesting experiment for the Lyric troupe is an upcoming production called interACT(X2).
Mitri explains that show will be a work-in-progress celebration of two new plays. Audience members will then be invited to interact with their playwrights by providing suggestions during post-show feedback sessions.
“We want to provide a platform for voices that might otherwise not be heard,” Mitri explains. “That’s what we really like about the interACT(X2) series, which is something that we hope to continue. We want those to feature new works by new artists … before they become famous.”
The artistic producer says those one-person shows will be uniquely staged and their stories will be told in a non-linear, thought-provoking fashion.
“How people will react to interACT(X2) is what’s really interesting to me,” Mitri admits. “Too often, we make snap judgments about something we’ve just seen, which doesn’t really do a theater experience the justice it deserves … We really want our audiences to walk away from interACT(X2) asking themselves ‘What did I just see?’ and ‘What does it mean to me?’.”
The Lyric’s 2021 season will feature three other plays in addition to “All the Way” and interACT(X2).
“The Moutaintop” is a two-person drama focusing on the last day of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Dreaming American” is the story of an Egyptian immigrant confronting the myths and realities of life in here in the United States.
“The Thanksgiving Play” is a comic satire about four idealistic playwrights trying to create a politically correct script about the Thanksgiving holiday that is historically accurate, non-stereotypical and inoffensive.
The upcoming season will also include the 3rd Annual Vosco Call Spotlight Concert, honoring the memory of the Lyric Repertory Company’s late patriarch.
All of those productions will be presented in the Morgan Theatre on the USU campus except for interACT(X2), which will be staged at the Caine Lyric Theatre in downtown Logan.