• Cristee Cook

Dallas' Theatre Three to tell a timely story in Mark Harelik's 'The Immigrant'

By Cristee Cook

The Immigrant by Mark Harelik, opening this week at Theatre Three, will be the seminal launch of virtual theatre from the longtime Dallas company. Directed by Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt, the play tells the story of Russian-Jewish immigrant Haskell Harelik as he settles into America at the turn of the 20th century. Now that the state has given live performance venues the green light to open with safety guidelines in place, many local performance companies are having to make difficult decisions about the future of their company. While many theatre companies are choosing to explore online performances, these can take many forms. Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen theatrical films, online play readings, replays of past performances, and virtual workshops. For The Immigrant, Theatre Three will be streaming the performance at certain times, and they’ve described it as a combination between live performance and film.

Dallas Art Beat spoke with Associate Artistic Director Christie Vela about the process of creating virtual theatre, and why she feels the story of The Immigrant is pertinent right now.

How is Theatre Three approaching the world of virtual performance?

Well, at the beginning of all this, when everybody started [virtual] events, we were on the fence about it. It seems so far removed from what the live theater experience is, you know? But eventually we decided…that we had to, we felt that Theatre Three could not just sit back. We wanted to stay engaged in the community. We made the decision to try something new-ish with The Immigrant. We had already been talking about doing more multimedia stuff, pre-pandemic, as an expansion of the live experience. And we hadn't necessarily thought about streaming. But now it’s like all bets are off. So let's go ahead and implement these things that we had already been thinking about doing within the live experience.

Besides working around the limitations of a global pandemic, what inspired you to approach The Immigrant this way?

Jeffrey thought: okay, what if we do a combination of what would be a zoom presentation where it's just one shot? We were able to use a green screen to use the original renderings that the scenic designer had for the set to give it another flavor. And then that grew and developed into us designing backdrops specifically for this process that we're trying. Then that became, well, if we're going to do that, why don't we turn it into a kind of an old school Disney, three layer process, animation style. And then that grew into us trying it in black and white. So, the need to put something out there and the resources that were available to us are the things that got us thinking: what if we do this? What if we try this? We’ve turned the Norma Young into a green screen studio. We’ve even hired a film editor to put all of these things together. It’s a first try. We’re trying this very new thing.

Before the pandemic, when I read that The Immigrant was part of Theatre Three’s season, I thought it was a very timely choice. Do you think it’s more or less timely now given everything we’re going through in 2020?

I do think it’s more timely now. This play was chosen last year because all of this was already happening - everything that was going on at the border: the babies in the cages and families being separated from each other. Jeffrey thought it was really important for us to be part of that conversation, about immigration and who land belongs to, and who belongs on the land. We wanted to present that story through a lens that some of our audience members may understand better or may have their own perspective about. We're all immigrants, we all came here from somewhere, except for Native Americans. So we wanted to present the story of immigration through a lens that has already happened, and say, look, we've all been here. You've been here and your ancestors have been here. We thought that it was poignant and appropriate, and kind of lovely, to tell this story about this Jewish immigrant family that came to Texas in the 1800's.

Do you think that it will have a different resonance given it's a Texas playwright and taking place in Texas? Do you hope it has a different resonance?

I do. Quite honestly there are people who, you know, things like this happen and there are people who double down on their views, right? People who double down out of fear or out of ignorance. I'm hoping that being able to see these faces that look like them tell this story flips a switch.


Directed by Theatre Three Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt, The Immigrant by Texas playwright Mark Harelik, will be performed and designed to work within the necessary current restrictions. Streaming access codes are only $15 and are available for purchase at www.Theatre3Dallas.com. The performance schedule is:

Monday, June 15 at 7:30 PM

Thursday, June 18 at 7:30 PM

Friday, June 19 at 8:00 PM

Saturday, June 20 at 8:00 PM

Sunday, June 21 at 2:30 PM

Wednesday, June 24 at 2:00 PM

Thursday, June 25 at 7:30 PM

Friday, June 26 at 8:00 PM

Saturday, June 27 at 2:30 PM

Saturday, June 27 at 8:00 PM

Sunday, June 28 at 2:30 PM

Consider each viewing opportunity as a performance that begins at the published time. Videos must be accessed within 30 minutes of the start times for each show. In addition to the streamed performance, viewers will be provided with a digital version of a traditional performance program. Theatre Three will host talkbacks on Facebook following the performances on June 15, June 21 and June 28 at: www.facebook.com/theatre3dallas.

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