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O'Neill Center chooses works for its online-only summer; public can access 16 free virtual events

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During the summer months, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s campus in Waterford is usually bustling with rehearsals and public performances of a variety of stage works, from puppetry to plays to musical theater to cabaret.

This year, of course, will be different.

In response to the ongoing pandemic, the O’Neill has moved its programs online for this summer.

But work is still going on, albeit in a different format, and the O’Neill has just announced its summer season, including the plays and musicals chosen to be developed.

And while O’Neill fans can’t spend a summer night outdoors at the Edith Oliver Theater or inside the Rose Barn Theater, watching a new play or musical unfold, they will be able to join in for 16 free virtual events.

Several National Playwrights Conference Alumni Happy Hours will be held, including a 6 p.m. July 7 one featuring Pulitzer Prize winners Quiara Alegría Hudes (“Water by the Spoonful”) and Michael R. Jackson (“A Strange Loop”), and Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”).

John McDaniel, the artistic director of the O’Neill’s Cabaret and Performance Conference, and Junior Fellows leader Brad Simmons will present a night of cabaret at 8 p.m. Aug. 3.

On a variety of Sundays between June 7 and Aug. 2, at 7 p.m., artistic directors of the O’Neill’s various summer programs will talk and answer questions.

For any of the aforementioned online programs, which are free, people need to RSVP to the O’Neill.

Chandler Smith, associate producer at the O’Neill, says, “We are really excited to be offering 16 different free events that are open to the public. We are disappointed they are not going to take the same shape as a musical might take in the Barn or a play might take in the Edith, but we’re really excited to get to expand what we’re offering and allow people the opportunity to experience different moments of what happens at the O’Neill that typically happens prior to audience members arriving. So in some ways, we’re getting to open up a little bit more, and by making things virtual, our national reach is truly going to be national. Everyone has the opportunity to call and log in.”

The virtual open mic nights take their cues from the open mic nights that usually happen live at the O’Neill, with the idea that going online is the next best thing to being there. Smith says the hope is that viewers will feel as if they just walked over from the Dina Merrill Theater and settled into Blue Gene’s Pub to watch an after-show performance.

A virtual version of the popular Puppetry Open Mics, for instance, are becoming “Puppets in the Pub” presentations that can be viewed virtually by the public 9-10 p.m. June 9 and 11.

Plays and musicals

Two shows were chosen from 360 submissions to be part of the National Music Theater Conference. While they won’t get actors rehearsing and performing the pieces before an audience, the creators will receive monetary and developmental support, with directors and dramaturgs offering guidance.

The same goes for the four plays selected from more than 1,500 submissions to be developed at the National Playwrights Conference.

The teams who made it to the finalist round in 2020 will also maintain their finalist eligibility for 2021.

The musicals selected for the National Music Theater Conference are:

• “Azul Otra Ves [Blue, Revisited],” with book by Melis Aker and Tatiana Pandiani music by Jancinta Clusellas, and lyrics by Jancinta Clusellas and Rubén Darío

• “Two Nights and Three Days” with book, music, and lyrics by Kim Jinhyoung and Marcus Perkins

The plays chosen for the National Playwrights Conference are:

• “Beacon” by Kirstin Greenidge

• “...but you could’ve held my hand” by JuCoby Johnson

• “visiting hours” by Arika Larson

• “Kidnapping Jane Doe” by David Zheng

Join in the puppetry

The National Puppetry Conference, which takes place June 8-12, is marking its 30th year and is opening its five-part master class series to the public. Single tickets are $40, and a five-class pass is $125. The sessions take place from 2 to 3 p.m. on Zoom daily from June 8 to 12, and topics include “Creativity and Compassion” with Yael Rasooly (who is from Israel) on June 10 and “The ABC’s for the Successful Puppeteer” with Bernd Ogrodnik (Iceland) on June 12. 

Becoming a member

Smith notes that if people become O’Neill members, they will get additional access to programs. Depending on the level of membership people buy (which ranges from $50 to $5,000), for instance, they could get free admission to Puppetry Conference master classes; watch a National Music Theater Conference jam session; and see a virtual performance by the Cabaret Junior Fellows. The membership will continue through next summer.

Smith says about the O’Neill summer going online, “Of course we’re disappointed we will not be able to gather at our beautiful campus, but we really feel like this is the way to keep our artists, staff, faculty, students and audience members safe and then really look forward to that joyous moment of gathering again (in the future).”

For more details about the summer season and membership, visit the O'Neill's website at


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