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StageWorks, Known for Over-the-Top Musical Adaptations, Will Stream Past Productions During the Pandemic

Shows in the company's vault include a "Cry-Baby" tribute with a ventriloquist dummy and "Xana-Redu" with professional choreography.    

-by Jay Horton 

Among all the industries devastated by the coronavirus outbreak, live theater may be the hardest hit. Steve Coker, StageWorks Ink's artistic director, had planned to open his musical adaptation of Popeye on April 10 at the Clinton Street Theater before disaster struck.

"I adapted the script, my roommate figured out the music, we cast the actors, had one week of rehearsals, and boom, we were done," he laughs. "Even if we recorded the show to share online, there are more than 10 people in the cast and crew."

That's forced Coker to adapt by digging into StageWorks' vault of shows. Over the next four Saturday evenings, he'll be streaming a different prior production on Facebook, while serving as virtual master of ceremonies.

"If people want to type out comments, I'll respond during intermission and open it up for a Q&A at the end," Coker says. "Our actors will send a couple of comments via video. I'll do a quick introduction talking about the inspiration for the show and maybe give some anecdotes."

As the pandemic spreads, the internet has become a common refuge for stage professionals unable to perform before audiences in person, though Coker believes StageWorks' past attention to cinematographic quality renders the company's recordings markedly different from the footage streamed by other troupes around town.

"Everybody started getting content out there immediately," he admits, "whether that means reading a monologue or…anything, really. A friend of mine who cooks wants to livestream making dinner. But I don't know any companies that have taped as extensively as we have. Most people just use a single camera to shoot the entire show. We had four cameras for Xana-Redu, and I went back and edited all the angles together for a really great video of the amazing dancing."

That attention to visual details stems from the director's background. After leaving the Art Institute of Portland in 2007 on the advice of a teacher who said his tuition money would be better spent on filmmaking, Coker set out on the path of a young auteur—writing, directing and acting in his debut feature, Crackin' the Code, the following year. He'd also started organizing effect-laden script readings under the StageWorks banner and, for the company's first full-blown play at the Rialto's Jack London Revue in 2013, staged Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live From Outer Space—a passably professional proof-of-concept video starring Daniel Baldwin made to attract financing for production. You'll have the opportunity to see the rollicking cabaret-style show April 25.

"I'd trimmed down the story to about an hour," Coker recalls, "and the actors felt they could memorize that. A friend of mine said costumes would be more engaging. Then, a cast member thought we should have dance numbers. If we weren't going to be able turn these girls into werewolves, she asked: 'Why can't they just become sexy?' The bar crowd lost their minds, and quite by accident, we had a theater piece."

Though the writer-director's cinematic sensibilities tend to lean toward subdued narratives and natural dialogue, his second life as a theatrical showman is the complete opposite: Coker enjoys putting on high-concept, low-budget extravaganzas. Xana-Redu (April 11), for instance, features choreography by modern dance troupe TriptheDark and an electronic score by Funhouse Lounge musical director Jim Liptak.


Coker, a former puppeteer, used a ventriloquist dummy for a Cry-Baby tribute (April 18). To achieve the transcendent kitsch of beloved 1980 space opera Flash Gordon, StageWorks' production of Flash Ah-Ahhh! (May 2) faithfully replicated the camp mayhem atop a medley of Queen's greatest hits.

Coker maintains hope that cast and venue schedules will allow 

StageWorks' Popeye to one day grace the stage. But hitting pause and revisiting past productions could expose the company to new viewers.


"It just became clearer and clearer that our company wouldn't be allowed to do Popeye," Coker says, "but there's certainly enough people around their living rooms right now who haven't seen any of our work."

SEE IT: StageWorks Ink will stream Xana-Redu, Cry-Baby, Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live From Outer Space and Flash Ah-Ahhh! on its Facebook page at 7:30 pm Saturday, April 11-May 2.

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