Since June, Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance has presented outdoor theater to small audiences, in line with COVID protocols for performers and audience members.
As winter temperatures have arrived, though, Theatre Alliance is temporarily shifting to putting its work online, through pre-recorded or livestreamed offerings in January and February. The company plans to be back outdoors in early March.
‘Diva: Live from Hell!’
This darkly comic musical is a one-man show starring John C. Wilson.
Wilson’s character, Desmond, makes an error while in a jealous rage and tries desperately to improve his situation with live performances from Hell. It’s up to the audience to judge if he is truly deserving of his punishment.
“I really enjoy the tagline from the show’s website,” Wilson said. That website is desmondthediva.com.
“On the site, they say, ‘The Drama Club is going to Hell in a handbasket.’ Desmond is literally singing for his soul in this hellish cabaret, so strap in for the ride!”
Despite the many roles Wilson has filled at Theatre Alliance and around the Triad, “Diva” marks his first time as the sole actor onstage.
“Preparing for a one-man show is much more intense than preparing for a multi-actor show,” he said. “It feels as if the entire production is resting on my shoulders. What happens if my mind goes blank while performing, I forget a line or the lyrics to a song?
“With other actors onstage with you, there’s a bit of a safety net,” Wilson added, “in that they can help get the scene back on track if someone gets lost. When it’s just you, there’s that bit of extra, added pressure to remember it all and not let the train derail, so to speak.”
In addition to building Desmond’s character, Wilson portrays other individuals from Desmond’s time on Earth.
“The most fun of preparing for the show is getting to play around with all the characters. Desmond relives what got him to Hell in the first place, and he’s remembering all the people in his story,” Wilson said. “So, it’s a lot of fun to figure out how those people are going to sound, move and behave.
“The challenging part,” he said, “will be keeping them all straight and seamlessly switching between them throughout the show. Oh, and learning all the lines.”
Theatre Alliance will livestream the musical, with live music accompaniment by David Lane.
“I would say that if you love a show with camp and characters galore all wrapped up in one actor, come see ‘Diva!’ It’ll be a guaranteed good time,” Wilson said.
‘SHOUT! The Mod Musical’
Theatre Alliance’s “SHOUT! The Mod Musical” cast includes Rebecca Barnhardt, Kinsey Calderone, Heather Levinson, Jessie Stewart and Brianna Witherspoon.
Witherspoon explains the concept of the musical as being a show “about five women, during the 1960s, who subscribe to the fictional Shout! magazine. The publication identifies each woman as a color, based on their personalities, and provides them with relationship advice. The audience will learn about each woman’s love life by the songs they are singing.”
Witherspoon’s two favorite songs from the popular tunes of the day are “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “One Two Three.”
“Each song is different and unique in its own way, and I especially enjoy the harmonies on each of them. I also get to solo on ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.’ I love a good ballad, and I’ll do my best to deliver.”
Other tunes from “SHOUT!” include “Son of a Preacher Man,” “These Boots Were Made for Walkin,’” “Goldfinger" and “Downtown.”
As with other theater groups in the area, Theatre Alliance is aware that online shows are not quite the same as the live, in-person experience. But they want, within safe restrictions, to keep both their volunteers and their audiences engaged.
“We realize virtual productions are a far cry from being live and in the moment, especially with so many professional shows being filmed with countless resources and endless budgets. It is very hard to compete with that,” Lawson said.