The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the theatre community to be even more creative than usual to survive, a struggle for many companies even in the best of times. As theatres dealt with dwindling audiences, theatre artists dealt with dwindling opportunities as theatres postponed or cancelled performances or worse, shut their doors completely. Streaming theatre was an outlet for some, but most agree it’s a less than ideal replacement for the communal experience of live theatre.
But streaming theatre gave Emerson Collins and Blake McIver, two performers with decades of experience between them, another opportunity to work together after spending a couple of seasons on Bravo TV’s The People’s Couch. What they developed as a streaming piece for the Public Theatre of San Antonio has now transmogrified into a full-fledged touring production.
Sonoma Arts Live will host I Dreamed a Dreamgirl, their two-man tour de force based on their life experiences and careers – from Star Search to Ragtime to Full House to Rent – for one weekend of performances in August. They describe the show as “showtunes, duets, Disney favs (and deep cuts), mashups and medleys that (probably) shouldn’t exist.” The title itself is a mashup of Emerson’s love of Les Miz and Blake’s love of Dreamgirls.
“Everything sort of snowballed from that first livestream,” said Collins. “We expanded and did it for other places and then because it gave us something to actually do while stuck at home, we made Once Upon a Lockdown – a Halloween show, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Lockdown” – a Christmas show, and just kept doing livestreams. We made medleys, strange mashups, and sat around creating harmonies we would not normally have taken the time to do in functional life. As a result, we ended up with so much material to choose from to make this show. So to decide what made it in, we focused one the things that help tell the stories of our careers, and then the things that make it fun.”
The show landed in Sonoma as a result of Collin’s work with the Del Shores Foundation. “In considering what cities to pitch our first tour to, I started with theatres we have a relationship with. I’m the Program Director for the Del Shores Foundation. Early in the lockdowns I produced a livestream benefit reading of his most famous play, Sordid Lives, with many of the original cast from the indie film including Beau Bridges, Leslie Jordan and Beth Grant. The funds we raised allowed us to write over $3,000 checks to 23 of our non-profit theatre partners, one of which is Sonoma Arts Live. Jaime Love has been an amazing partner there, so when I pitched it to her, she said “Yes, come on up!”
Audiences have responded positively to the show so far. “It’s been overwhelming,” said Collins. “We opened the tour in Palm Springs and there was a standing ovation at the end of the first act and that was the first time I truly thought “okay, we’ve made something people really enjoy.” Also, we did a test run of it in LA for the harshest critics among our friends. My best friend, a standup comedian who ‘hates musicals’, said “I actually loved the whole thing.” In Dallas an audience member said, “I didn’t know any song you sang, and I had an absolute blast” so it seems to be playing well for people.”
Which is what Blake and Emerson hope for their Sonoma County audiences. “There is so much darkness right now, our goal here is truly to just provide a silly, fun and joyful evening! We sing all or part of 49 different songs in 90 minutes from Aida and Chess, a Disney villains medley, standards, and things from Britney to Barbra. So truly, we just want you to leave smiling a little more than when you came in.”
‘I Dreamed a Dreamgirl’ runs Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 7:30pm. $30–$45. 866.710.8942. Proof of vaccination with ID and masking are required to attend. sonomaartslive.org.
Photos courtesy of Emerson Collins