Hartford Theater Steps Up Its Social Media Game Amid Social Distancing | Connecticut Public Radio

Hartford Theater Steps Up Its Social Media Game Amid Social Distancing

Apr 17, 2020

Social distancing has forced performing arts organizations to find creative ways to stay relevant. TheaterWorks in Hartford has responded by stepping up its online presence as a way to stay connected with patrons and supporters.

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Very soon after TheaterWorks closed its doors, it became clear that one of its existing programs, the Living Room music series, would make an easy transition from live to livestreaming.

Every Wednesday night at 7:30 on Facebook Live, singer-songwriters give a literal living room performance to a growing number of online followers.

Most of the musicians have a connection to TheaterWorks, like last week’s performer, David Lutken, who played folk singer Woody Guthrie in the TheaterWorks production of Woody Sez.

TheaterWorks Hartford’s other weekly online series is Get Sauced, a sort of happy hour talk show and cooking show hybrid, livestreamed from the kitchen of TheaterWorks’ artistic director, Rob Ruggiero.

“It’s about 40 minutes of hanging out with me in my kitchen,” said Ruggiero. “I'll have a virtual guest, and we talk about how I know the person and what our history is. Most of them have done work at TheaterWorks, so we talk about those shows and specific memories and what they are doing right now.”

And Ruggiero always has something cooking on the stove.

“For an Italian, you hang out in the kitchen,” said Ruggiero, “you cook in the kitchen, you talk in the kitchen, there’s a lot of personal stuff that’s shared in the kitchen. It’s a very comfortable place for Italians, and anyone, to hang out in.”

Ruggiero said the organization made an early decision to forge ahead with a plan to keep audiences and his staff engaged through this period of self-isolation.

“It is my passion, it is my purpose to make sure that TheaterWorks is here on the other side of this,” said Ruggiero. “My team is totally dedicated to making that happen. So this programming, this virtual programming, is important to us because we love our audience, and it’s a way that we feel connected to our audience.”

Ruggiero admits that he’s not the most tech-savvy theater director around, but he’s learning. And so are the theater’s patrons.

“I just want to make sure that the sector of our audience that are not social media-savvy can have access to these. A couple of people said they couldn’t do it, and so I called them, I personally emailed them right away to reassure them that it’s nothing more than an old dog -- me -- learning new tricks.”

Along with the Living Room series and Get Sauced, TheaterWorks is developing a new weekly online variety show called Fridays at 8.

Ruggiero said that although he’s grateful to be busy in this time of self-isolation, he’s looking forward to the day when he can safely reopen the theater.

“I think it’s going to be over the top, like euphoric. The actors are going to be so hungry for that connection with a live audience, and the audience is going to be so excited to be in a room with 200 other people and feel that thing which I think was taken for granted for a little.”

Get Sauced is every Thursday evening at 5 o’clock on Instagram. The Living Room music series is every Wednesday night at 7:30 on Facebook Live.