The show must go on: Manhattan theaters hold outdoor, COVID-safe performances

Jorge Clar (left) and Scooter LaForge (crouching) collaborated on a “psychic portrait ” of Gail Thacker (seated) while Ethan Minsker (far right) and others documented the collaboration.
Photo by Bob Krasner


In the COVID-19 era, the government helped find a way for restaurants to survive through outdoor dining. But theaters across New York, especially the smaller venues, are asking, as Gail Thacker did, “What about us?”

While there is “a physical need for food,” Thacker — the artistic director of the Gene Frankel Theatre (GFT) on Bond Street in NoHo — said that “there is a spiritual need for theater.” At the moment, eateries  are operating at capacity outdoors and at 25% indoors, but Off-Off Broadway spaces like the GFT have no official way forward. 

Looking to find a solution, at least two groups are attempting to start a conversation with the governor and mayor.

Eight small theaters, including the GFT, Soho Playhouse and the New York Comedy Club are involved in a lawsuit put together by Catherine Russell, the general manager of the Theater Center, who is also an actor. These  theaters, which  have less than 200 seats, are hoping to open at 25% capacity. 

At the same time, FAB — the Fourth Arts Block on the Lower East Side — came up with the idea for a demonstration of safe outdoor performances, involving many of the more interesting downtown performance spots, including The Clemente, WOW Cafe, KGB and the GFT, among others.

Gail Thacker, Artistic Director of the GFT, has got it covered.Photo by Bob Krasner

On Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, audience members in front of 24 Bond St. saw the GFT participate in the event, dubbed “More Ways Than Broad Ways.”  The theatre rose to the challenge of presenting COVID-safe entertainment by thinking ahead and being prepared, which meant that Thacker had her work cut out for her.

“We hired a COVID Safe Media specialist,” she said. “The artists’ arrivals were staggered and everyone wore masks when not performing and most wore them for the performances.”

Microphones were disinfected between acts and doors and windows were kept open.

The masked audience gathered in the street outside the Gene Frankel TheatrePhoto by Bob Krasner

For the performers, all of whom donated their time, it was quite rewarding. Nora Burns of the performance group “Unitard” was more than ready to be on stage (or, as it were, in the window).

After eight months of being sidelined by the pandemic her first words onstage were, “Oh my god, an audience!”

Nora Burns of the performance troupe “Unitard” discussing the state of things inside the window of the Gene Frankel Theatre.

Later, she wondered why indoor customers of restaurants, who  spend most of their time sans masks, are okay but  theater goers – who  have no reason to take theirs off – are not.  

Appearing in a window was, for performance artist Helixx C. Armageddon.

Helixx C. Armageddon performing her original piece, “Seeking Asylum.”Photo by Bob Krasner

“Better than Zoom!” she explained. “I do feed off the energy of the people, even if they are on the other side of the glass.” 

Her piece, “Seeking Asylum,” was inspired by the plight of people who are trapped at home with domestic abusers, unable to seek help during the pandemic but looking for a safe space.

Yoshiko Chuma, of the “School of Hard Knocks” did an improvisaional dance outside the theatre.Photo by Bob Krasner

Between the acts, which also included Eileen Dover, Alex Sepassi,  Yoshiko Chuma and Jorge Clar,  dancers Erick Montes, Eiren Shuman and Mark Schmidt provided visual interludes to a soundtrack created by Paul Alexander. All three wore body paint courtesy of Scooter LaForge, who adorned the human canvasses in the window prior to performances.

Alex Sepassi of the band Silver Relics, performing solo.Photo by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover encouraged the crowd to sing background vocals on Lou Reed’s salute to NYC decadence, ” Walk on the Wild Side.”Photo by Bob Krasner

LaForge also had a chance to collaborate with Jorge Clar, as the two of them created a “psychic portrait” of Thacker, who took advantage of her time seated between them to record the proceedings from a different vantage point.

Scooter LaForge (right) paints dancer Erick MontesPhoto by Bob Krasner

As Clar read the color of her aura and divined her feelings, he announced his findings to LaForge who recorded  them with broad strokes.

Jorge Clar having tea with the spirit of Peter Stuyvesant.Photo by Bob Krasner

Thacker proclaimed the day a success, noting that “it went smoothly and the community embraced it!”  Continuing, she said that ” the government thinks that theater is not essential, but there is a spiritual need for it. It connects us as a group.  I feel like the restaurants are like an older sibling who gets more attention for no good reason. We’re just saying treat us fairly, because we are just as important.”

Information about the theater can be found at genefrankeltheatre.com