Despite problems with a slow U.S. government response to visa applications and ongoing concerns about coronavirus, Venice Theatre is welcoming theater troupes from 10 countries for its biennial AACT WorldFest 2022.
The event, presented by the American Association of Community Theatre, had previously been produced in different community theaters around the country before finding a home at Venice Theatre in 2010. The event returned in 2014 and 2018, when officials decided to make it a biennial event, but the 2020 festival was canceled after COVID forced theaters to shut down.
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“The festival is one hell of a challenge,” said Murray Chase, the theater’s producing executive director, who first brought the AACT festival to Venice. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but it will be a better festival than we first thought with a really nice lineup."
There will be 13 productions presented over six days from June 20-25 along with daytime workshops and evening social events. Most of the productions run 45-60 minutes and are presented in programming blocks of two to three shows. Troupes are coming, at their own expense, from the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Armenia, Poland and Switzerland. The Splash Theatre Company of Ukraine, which had hoped to perform in person, will instead be represented by a video version of its production of “Stolen Happiness.”
The Ukraine company was one of several that had trouble getting clearance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Chase said the visa process has been slower, in part, because of COVID.
“Normally, with a requested urgency from a nonprofit, we’d expect a response in four to six weeks,” he said. “We started seeking approvals in December, and we got our first response around the first of April and that was a request for more info on Ukraine. They asked us to reply by the middle of July for a performance in June.”
The U.S government does not require visas for theater troupes from many of the countries represented.
Venice Theatre set an early May deadline for the international companies to be cleared so it could begin announcing and promoting the event.
Each of the productions is presented twice – an evening performance followed by a matinee the next day. Most will be shown in the mainstage Jervey Theatre, while a few will be seen in the smaller Pinkerton Theatre.
In past years, the first performance of each show was followed by a panel of adjudicators commenting on the production. Those adjudications will now be presented in a separate event following the second performance in order to streamline the evening showings, Chase said.
“The evenings were often long, so instead of getting out at 11:30 or midnight, we’ll get people out closer to 10:30,” Chase said. The evening programs are followed by Afterglow receptions, where patrons can meet and mingle with the international artists appearing in the festival.
Venice Theatre’s recent production of “Blackbird” will be one of two from the United States. The Lexington Players from Massachusetts will present a shortened version of Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” a fictional look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night before he was killed. The production won the most recent AACT National Festival.
Chase said even when productions are in foreign languages, they are presented in ways that “will make them understandable to people who don’t speak the language.”
The Maner Manush Troupe from Rome, Italy, which stages its productions in the commedia dell’arte style, is the only one that has taken part in every WorldFest presented in Venice. Its leaders also have led workshops in the traditional comedy style.
A second Italian troupe will present “Clan MacBeth,” offering a twist on the Shakespeare play.
Puppeteer Caio Stolai, who first appeared at the 2010 festival, returns with his one-person show “Circo Poeira” (“Dust Circus”).
Troupes from the United Kingdom, Poland, Ukraine and Germany were booked for the 2020 festival and were able to keep the productions together until this year. The UK troupe Scrambled Egg Theatre, which performed in 2018, will present its version of “A Man of No Importance.” Other returnees include the Yerevan State Puppet Theatre from Armenia and Germany’s The Wild Bunch, which will present “Der Kinoerzähler,” which means “the movie teller.” It features three actors, one saxophonist and one drummer.
Registration packages range from $175 to $575, with varying kinds of access and benefits. Single tickets also are available. For more information, go to venicetheatre.org/international.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: International theaters return to Venice for 2022 AACT WorldFest