BLUE HILL — A funny thing happened on the way to the pandemic.
Almost a year ago, as COVID-19 hit the East Coast, amateur and professional theaters nationally, locally and around the world closed their curtains and doors, leaving thousands, perhaps millions, out of jobs and audiences bereft.
But then something happened. Being creative types, theater folks and other performing artists started figuring out how they could still present “live” events using online platforms rather than stages.
Around here, this past June, the New Surry Theatre was among the first to launch a full-fledged play “The Laramie Project” online. They have continued to present virtual plays and readings ever since, the latest being Larry Gelbart’s “Mastergate,” which will be performed virtually at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Jan. 22-23 and 29-30.
According to NST Artistic Director Lori Sitzabee, there have been some unexpected perks to their enforced virtual existence.
“As much as we miss our live audiences,” she says, “we still have about the same amount of people seeing our productions that would come to the theater, and on some nights more people online than we could have fit in the theater.”
And, she has discovered, when recruiting actors and production people she is not confined to strictly local talents.
“This is a large cast of 17 people,” Sitzabee says. “They come from four states and all over Maine — people who could not have participated before because of the distance.”
Her main tech coordinator, Christopher Raymond, for instance, is hunkered down in Manhattan. “And it’s nice,” she says, “for some of our summer patrons to have the chance to see these winter performances.”
And, of course,” she adds, “everyone gets a front-row seat.”
Written in 1985, “Mastergate” is very loosely based on the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. The play has the serious premise of a Senate hearing about an alleged arms deal involving guerillas and Hollywood.
“It’s still pretty relevant,” Sitzabee says, “and some of the things that the playwright made up to be funny are now really happening!”
“It’s still funny,” she emphasizes, “but also surprisingly true.”
Among the many actors who play the various goofy senators and quirky witnesses at the hearing will be a guest appearance by Sitzabee’s predecessor and mentor, Bill Raiten. He is New Surry Theatre’s founding artistic director.
“Bill’s really excited to do this,” Sitzabee says, “and it’s fun to be directing him for a change.”
The suggested admission is $20 per adult and $18 per student/senior. To sign up for the live-streamed performances, visit newsurrytheatre.org.