The bonds of friendship are placed under a stress test in Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play “Art,” next up on Brainerd Community Theatre’s schedule of events.

The three-character play will be presented via livestream at 7 p.m. May 19-22, with a live May 20 performance.

Theater Director Patrick Spradlin, who is both director of this production and playing one of the three roles, saw it as a first step in what he hopes will be the near future of live performance.

“When the pandemic struck and everyone went into lockdown, BCT invested in cameras and equipment to allow us to continue to produce performance events,” Spradlin stated in a news release. “We did this with the expectation that even after the pandemic has passed, we’d still be streaming our events, as much as possible.”

Spradlin envisions a future where performances will be streamed live to distanced audiences — those who cannot leave their residence, such as those in nursing homes or retirement centers; those who are not comfortable with congregating in crowds; or those who are geographically distanced.

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“We want to reach an expanded audience that place-bound performances just can’t do,” stated Spradlin.

The play “Art” was chosen as the organization’s first foray into livestreaming performance events.

“We’ve produced three plays either over Zoom, or using television production methods — recording scenes, editing them into a full production, adding sound and music, etc.,” Spradlin stated. “We placed these in an ‘on demand’ basis; with ‘Art’ the distanced audience will be seeing the play as it unfolds in real time, as will the audience present for the one performance.”

“Art” has a relatively simple plot: Serge has purchased an expensive piece of modern art, an all-white painting. When his friend Marc learns of this purchase, he cannot believe that Serge would have done such a thing without Marc’s approval. They each draw a mutual friend, Yvan, into their disagreement. Allegiances among the three are formed, dissolved, re-formed and abandoned over the course of the 90-minute play.

“This play looks simple on its surface, but has a lot to say about what it is that draws us to other people, how we make friends, and what keeps us bonded as friends,” stated Spradlin, who also noted there is adult language in the play. “We believe in giving fair warning about such matters. If you’re streaming at home, be aware that there is strong language, as you might expect from three impassioned men.”

Along with Spradlin, the play features the talents of two well-known community actors: Nick Kory and Kevin Yeager. Kory has won much critical acclaim for his work in BCT productions of “The Elephant Man,” “A Few Good Men” and “Young Frankenstein.” Yeager has appeared in many productions at BCT, Stage North Theatre and Pequot Lakes Community Theatre. His performances in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Elephant Man” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” have earned him a reputation as a compelling actor.

Spradlin sat down with his fellow cast members for a question-and-answer on the play, on how they became involved in the project, and what audiences may expect to see when they watch “Art.”

Q & A

Spradlin: What drew you to this project, live theater in a time of pandemic?

Yeager: In all honesty, the play itself wasn’t really the driving force in my participation. For me there were two factors. First, the opportunity to collaborate with a couple actors and a director whom I consider to be at the very pinnacle of skill and achievement. Those opportunities are tremendously rare. And second, I am looking forward to a key role in the fall of 2021, and wanted to “freshen” my process beforehand. The thought of attacking one of the greatest roles ever written after a two-year hiatus seems unappealing. Yes, that was a teaser.

Kory: Live theater has played a very important role in our city for many years. Losing out on consistent theater productions has been a difficult change, for myself and other members of the community. Having the opportunity to provide that entertainment in an uncertain time, and alongside Kevin and Patrick, was too good to pass up.

Spradlin: What are the unique challenges you find in working on this play?

Yeager: None, it’s been a piece of cake so far. I have no idea what a comedy without a live audience will feel like, but I am anxious to use it as an opportunity to gain a skill set I am not sure I possess.

Kory: Scheduling is always an issue, but for “Art” it has worked out that we are often only available for two nights a week. On top of that, this show has the single longest monologue I’ve ever had to perform. Those two elements combine to make “Art” a challenge unlike anything else I’ve yet faced in theater.

Spradlin: You’re a well-known figure in the local theatre community. What would you say to others in theater about how you see the future shaping up?

Yeager: I will say “hope for the best” with as much vigor as a dyed in the wool, pessimistic Gen X’er can muster.

Kory: Performing large cast productions in front of a packed house is still a long way off, and that is unfortunately a reality we must be ready to accept. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy theater at all. Outdoor productions have been successful (weather permitting), and allowing people to enjoy productions from the comfort of their own homes via livestreaming services are just two ways in which BCT is ready to face the challenges that COVID has presented.

Spradlin: How would you describe this play? Why would you recommend it to an audience?

Yeager: This is a play about the delicately woven nuances of human interaction. It’s about people and their idiosyncrasies. Every single audience member will find a way to associate.

Kory: “Art” is a layered, in-depth view at a three-way friendship during its most trying of times. It explores an extreme possibility of when people are pushed to their breaking point, forced to ask themselves,“Why am I still friends with this person?” The dialogue is snappy but also deep, and the humor is relatable and humanizing. There are a million different ways this script could be performed, and I hope that even people who have seen the show many times before will still get an entirely unique experience.

Spradlin: Is there anything else you’d like to comment on?

Yeager: I would like to extend my appreciation to the leadership of CLC for allowing this to happen. There is a long list of people “sticking their neck out” in an attempt to create (even for one evening) something resembling a life we all remember. To those individuals, I say thank you. I am putting in all of the hard work because of you.

How to watch

The production team for “Art” includes Beth Selinger, local actor/director who is providing directorial input to the cast; George Marsolek, technical director/set designer; Heidi Eckwall, lighting designer; Curtis Jendro, video and sound director; and Lorri Jager, stage manager. John Erickson of Art Matters Studio and Gallery is the production photographer.

Tickets are available through the Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center’s website at clcperformingarts.com. Patrons should note COVID-19 protocols are in place for the May 20 in-person performance; seating will be limited. Those purchasing livestream tickets should make note of the fact this is not an on-demand event.

This activity is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota, through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.