COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Tom Vitorino - Reflections on COVID-19 and the Thursday Night Theater Club


Actor, producer, and co-founder of Thursday Night Theater Club (TNTC), Tom Vitorino has appeared in film, television, commercials, soap operas, and live theater. Most recently, he starred in The Elephant Man, the tale of tragically deformed John Merrick, at the historic El Portal Theatre. Tom graciously took time from his busy schedule to interview in March 2020.


Vanessa Vaughn, Jennipher Lewis, Robin Roth, and Tom Vitorino in THE ELEPHANT MAN - Photo by David Ruano

When did your theater company first begin? Were you involved from the beginning? Who/how/why/where was it founded?

TV:  Alice Walker and I started “Thursday Night Theater Club” at her kitchen table in 2017. While the company has no long career in the sense of decades, anyone who’s ever taken on the task of starting a theater company ages a decade in the first year!

Alice and I wanted to put on plays that held a mirror up to the audience. That was the reason we started the company. The plays we’ve produced deal with very real social issues, tend to be timeless, and have large casts. We wanted to involve large groups of people from all social groups. It is about activating the idea of change, some sort of mind and spirit expansion, even if for just those associated with the production.”

Tom Vitorino and Alice L. Walker in "A View from the Bridge" - Photo by Cierra Danielle

Have you had to close down any productions due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run - or do you have any upcoming productions - which are affected?

TV:  I was at the pre-production stage of Anne Nelson’s The Guys. This was my new endeavor outside of TNTC. This play takes place during the period right after 9/11. It really amplifies the idea of how complete strangers can lean on each other in the most difficult of times. We’ve had a few get-togethers and were set to meet on March 15, but we’ve postponed all of our meetings. We were just about at that point to really dive in, so that is on hold. Ronnie Marmo is directing. Robyn Cohen is playing the role of Joan, and I will be Nick. This will open at Theater 68 in the NoHo Arts District on September 11, 2020. Yes, I am projecting that we return to a sense of normalcy. I have to.

Tom Vitorino and Alice L. Walker in "The Elephant Man" - Photo by David Ruano

Over the past weeks, has COVID-19 impacted on your group in any way?

TV: I think right in front of me is the fear, the anxiety, and the depression that I have never really experienced like this. Usually those feelings are in the moment; but, with this deadly outbreak, you go to bed with it. You awake, and those feelings are still there. Every cough creates a sense of panic!  New terms like “social distancing” are forever a part of the world; and that distance - while 110% needed - creates the inability to physically comfort a friend, a stranger, or anyone outside of your “home stay” crew. I spend a lot of time on Zoom, and it is rather ironic that the very medium of online connectivity that many felt was not a real connection is now in many cases the only connection we have left at this point. My wife Stephanie and I have stayed at home since March 11 except for a few trips to the grocery store wearing whatever PPE (there’s another new term) we have. We are three weeks into this situation. If I should meet eyes with another shopper while grocery shopping, there’s this knowing nod, this unspoken support of each other. The “social distancing” that we all employ is a shared experience is a sign of solidarity against this virus and an act of love for life itself.  So all of this makes me even more grateful for many things I have taken for granted.

Ethan Micael, Tom Vitorino, and Jeremy Falla in "A View from the Bridge" - Photo by Cierra Danielle

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Having virtual meetings? Streaming?

TV:  We have discussed when the time is right to start some readings on Zoom. At this time, I just think that people need space to figure out the day-to-day life changes that this virus has created. There is a lot of information to process, and that reality is front and center every day. But, in the near future, we will find a way forward.

What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?

TV:  In hard times like World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11, people needed entertainment to forget - if just for a few minutes or a few hours - about the reality just outside the living room, cinema, or theater door. Some look at “the arts” as being non-essential in these difficult times; but to me, that is like saying love is non-essential. Art will always be essential to the healing of the world and the existence of a loving, caring humankind. Los Angeles is an amazing, resilient town, and we will come out of this stronger than we went in. As for theater goers, the theater needs them as much, if not more, than it needs the performers. We are all counting on them, as we always do; and they have never let us down.

I understand that you are offering something special to theater patrons for your upcoming productions. Will you tell us more about that?

TV:  We had always planned on offering free tickets to firefighters for our upcoming production of The Guys,, since it deals with the subject matter of eulogizing eight firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11. It just felt like the right thing to do. The COVID-19 outbreak has shifted our social awareness, and we have a responsibility as artists to our community. Any student, healthcare worker, first responder, and anyone 65 years or older, is added to our comp list. We will have to figure out how we administer that. Maybe half the house will be reserved for those groups. Everyone else will be “pay what you can afford,” but that will be our policy.

Do you have any closing thoughts or words of encouragement for your patrons?

TV:  You are not alone in your thoughts. We all share those same fears. But know that this will eventually end, and hopefully we come out a little better than we were before this happened. I wish I could line all of you up and give each of you a hug, but that might not happen again for a good while. So, wrap your arms around yourself and give a little squeeze. That hug’s from me.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Activist Theater Company Launches Inaugural Season in support of Los Angeles Justice Fund

The Thursday Night Theater Club's inaugural season to begin with the morality play, “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller, to benefit families in the Los Angeles area.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA (August 14, 2018) - Activist theater group Thursday Night Theater Club (TNTheaterClub) opens its inaugural season with Arthur Miller's “A View from the Bridge” on August 23rd, at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The LA Justice Fund will receive a percentage of each ticket sold during the 10-week run.

“A View from the Bridge” tells the story of Italian-American dock workers in New York as they navigate the ethics of undocumented immigration and its repercussions while dealing with their sexuality in a new country where their lives were under scrutiny. Thursday Night Theater Club gives this play a new relevance in today's context of the global attitudes toward immigration policies (I.C.E.) and the conflicts over marriage equality.

When the play first appeared, it was viewed as a parable about McCarthyism. Eddie's ratting on Rodolpho to immigration authorities was the equivalent of “naming names.” Given such topicality, you might expect A View from the Bridge to be hopelessly dated. Just the opposite is true. After all, betrayal wasn't limited to the ‘50s. Nor was homophobia and the havoc it wreaks on a household and a community.” -- The Advocate, February 17, 1998

The season will continue with back-to-back plays by Mark SchultzAaron Sorkin, and more, while bringing new life to the classic morality play format. Artistic directors Alice L. Walker and Tom Vitorino founded Thursday Night Theater Club with the intention of bringing timely and timeless works to the Los Angeles area.

We want to showcase plays that get into that moldable part of you, that maybe make you question your assumptions--how you think about ethics and policy,” says Walker.

The company will donate a portion of each ticket sold to a relevant charitable organization based on the themes of each play performed. The Los Angeles Justice Fund, which provides legal support and counsel for immigrant families, will be the first recipient.

Walker continues, “There is fabulous theater in LA, but it isn't always accessible,” noting that ticket prices for live theater in the area can be a barrier. “We're performing every Thursday. When you leave, we want you to think ‘Yeah, this is something I can do', and then we'll see you again 10 weeks later.”

Tickets are now on sale starting at $20 at ThursdayNightTheaterClub.com. The production opens August 23rd, and plays on Thursday nights through October 25th at El Portal Theatre: 5269 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood.

Robyn Cohen (“The Life Aquatic”, James Franco's Studio 4) is directing “A View from the Bridge”. Tom Vitorino, Alice L. Walker, and Samantha Jo star. They are joined by Mark Morante, Jack Menzies, Robin Roth, Julisa Gonzalez, and Jeremy Falla, Guy Nardulli, and Zack Sayenko.  (More info on the cast can be found here: ThursdayNightTheaterClub.com/hero)

ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT THEATER CLUB

Established in 2018 as an artistic response to social injustice, Thursday Night Theater Club's mission is to ferociously explore morality plays that toy with ethics, law, and social constructs, while taking an active role in the local community. Co-artistic directors, Alice L. Walker and Tom Vitorino, helm the endeavor with a passion for exploring the human experience, no matter the medium. The company performs Thursdays at the intimate El Portal Theater, one of Los Angeles's most beautiful historic spaces.

For more information & tickets:  ThursdayNightTheaterClub.com
Facebook: facebook.com/ThursdayNightTheaterClub
Instagram: instagram.com/TNTheaterClub
Twitter: twitter.com/TNTheaterClub

ABOUT THE L.A. JUSTICE FUND
Launched in 2017, the L.A. Justice Fund has granted $7.4 million to increase access to legal representation and counsel to individuals and families dealing with deportation and removal proceedings in Los Angeles County. The Fund seeks to reinforce a safety net that is pro-family, pro-economic growth, and pro-civil and human rights. The L.A. Justice Fund is a partnership with Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the Weingart Foundation and the California Community Foundation (CCF). Cities across the country have duplicated this innovative cross-sector approach.  For more information: CalFund.org/lajusticefund