For over 100 years since the days of World War I, members of the entertainment world have sent representatives to help raise relief funds, sell war bonds and cheer our men and women on battlefields around the globe.
Most famously, the United Service Organization along with the late Bob Hope served to lift our spirits through World War II and beyond.
Today, thankfully, they have again risen to the occasion during theater’s darkest hour since the Great Depression.
Back then, we were still able to fill our dreary hours for comparatively little expense at the local motion picture houses, all of which now, have also been closed because of the pandemic crisis.
But, in the finest tradition of “show business,” that community continues to meet the challenge by providing all sorts of home entertainment on TV and online.
At Porchlight Music Theater’s Facebook page, each Saturday night at 7 p.m. you will find Artistic Director Michael Weber leading a discussion of the distinguished works of composer Stephen Sondheim in the “Sondheim @ 90 Roundtable.”
This weekend’s episode will highlight “Follies” and will feature a panel of local theatrical celebs including David H. Bell, Gary Griffin and Hollis Resnik.
And Chicago’s gift to comedy for over 60 years, The Second City, is offering several online shows for free.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the “Improv House Party” ensemble performs from its homes with participation from the online audience. A family-friendly option, “The Really Awesome Improv Show, streams Thursdays at 11 a.m.
The Second City shows require registration at secondcity.com.
You can pick a card from anywhere in the world, and Dennis Watkins, the magician behind the Magic Parlour inside the Palmer House Hilton, will be sure to pick it out of his deck on Thursdays at 6 p.m. on Facebook Live during the “Magic Parlour Happy Hour.”
The up-close display of this very personable young man’s slight-of-hand and magical skill will dazzle and amaze you despite being miles apart. Hopefully, you will be encouraged to come see his act in person once this is all over.
And the Lookingglass Theatre is releasing a weekly podcast featuring its company’s artists discussing their creative process — as well as a yoga class and some exclusive performances.
Many of our city’s notable dance companies — the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater — are streaming interviews, chats, performances and insights into their rigorous training.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater also has a podcast, “Asides,” in reference to Shakespeare’s stage instruction to his performers to break the fourth wall and speak their inner most thoughts directly to the audience.
This will involve reading excerpts from plays such as “Henry V” and “Hamlet” followed by a discussion.
In addition, the prestigious New York City Ballet is continuing its free digital season through May 30, with filmed performances on Tuesday and Friday evenings at 7 p.m. central on Facebook and YouTube.
London’s Globe Theatre is also doing its part by streaming a different Shakespeare play every fortnight, with performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 4-12), “The Winter’s Tale” (May 18-31), “The Two Noble Kinsmen” (June 1-14), and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (June 15-28).
It is also offering a number of plays in a foreign language, including a Polish “Macbeth” and a Hebrew ”Merchant of Venice.”
Kudos and a big round of applause to all these great performers and producing organizations which are finding ways to distract and divert us during these uncertain times. And there’s more, much more — so stay tuned.