Many people have gotten used to working from home during the seemingly endless period of quarantine. Anthony Natarelli is even bringing theater and improv comedy to his home.

The irrepressible 26-year-old Rock Islander, who lives in an apartment above the Circa ’21 Speakeasy, 1818 3rd Ave., livestreamed an improv show there June 27, and later this month will act in a two-man play to be shown online as part of his $1 Producer Project.

A promo poster for the online production of “Lonely Planet.”

“We’re keeping it small casts,” Natarelli said recently. “The highest number of people that will ever be in here will be five people in the entire apartment. We’re keeping it as low as possible.”

In this age of Covid, where theaters and artists have to get creative to make their work accessible to the public, Natarelli in June was in charge of livestreaming the Bottoms Up burlesque show online from The Speakeasy, and the following weekend, the “Shots ‘n’ Giggles” improv from his apartment (which was free to view).

At 8 p.m. on Aug. 27 and 29, and Sept. 4, he will act with Aaron Lord in “Lonely Planet” (1993) by Steven Dietz. The actors – portraying two gay men during the AIDS crisis — will wear clear face masks, and the filming crew will be masked.

“We have found some transparent masks, so you can see the performers faces,” Natarelli said. “We want it to look like as normal a performance as possible.

“We like to see theater, to have that extra layer of accessibility, which helps make the shows look like they normally would for the average viewer, for people to be able to see what we’re saying,” he said, noting such masks also help the deaf community.

In the “Lonely Planet” story, Jody is in his forties and runs a map store. Not one for the outside world, he stays in his store all the time. His friend, Carl, is in his late thirties and has been bringing chairs of dead friends into Jody’s store and leaving them there. When Jody needs to take an AIDS test, Carl tries to convince him it is not only okay to leave the store but also that he must take responsibility for his life.

If he doesn’t, he will join the set of chairs that Carl has taken great pains to place in the right spots around the store. Through their interaction, the two realize how grateful they are to have such a strong lasting friendship, according to a synopsis.

The logo for the $1 Producer Project.

“Making art is fun. It’s a release that, for those who do it, has been missed dearly this year,” Natarelli posted recently on Facebook.

He started the $1 Producer Project in 2017, on patreon.com, as a manageable idea for people to financially support local entertainment.

“We got sick of seeing Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, and even some other Patreon pages, asking their supporters to give them hundreds of dollars in order to create something,” according to the project Facebook page.

“There was no sense of a community coming together to make something amazing, and the people who were the most passionate would usually be forgotten because they couldn’t contribute to the top tier rewards. At $1/month, that can’t happen.

“We rely heavily on a community of supportive people to make each project happen,” the page says. “Even those who are generous enough to give more than a dollar each month aren’t given a special reward for doing so, and that will never change.”

“We’ve been told by multiple people we talked to before launching the page that we’d never be able to do anything asking for just $1 a month, and we don’t really care. This isn’t about us making a bunch of money, it’s about making cool stuff and creating a space for others to do the same.”

Natarelli invites you to help support local theater.

The $1 Producer Project (which has averaged two or three events a year) currently has 40 regular patrons, contributing a total of $63 per month.

The main costs for “Lonely Planet” were obtaining the rights for the work, and since the virtual world is a new frontier, Natarelli had to jump through some hoops.

“It’s a little different for each company; this one was through Dramatists Play Service,” he said. “We got their permission to do a livestream. Some others are on the back burner. We have to put in stipulations for our promotion rules, to acknowledge this is a special arrangement with the author.”

Dramatists had no policy in place for livestreams, but Natarelli said they worked one out after talking with him over a month period.

“Honestly, it was super nice, to hear the whole system trying to get figured out,” he said. “It’s been a weird thing; theaters in Chicago were not even looking into it. I  think it’s an issue where theaters always had, for the most part the theater itself, has had to do it live (before an audience), and that’s it. The theaters never had to deal with anything like this.”

“One thing that’s exciting about doing this, you’ve got theaters in Chicago going to check it out, look into expanding it,” Natarelli said.

He said the play is not being done in the 130-seat Speakeasy (which now has to have a 50-patron maximum due to social distancing rules), since they have a fairly busy regular schedule of rehearsals and performances already.

Natarelli acted in “Something Intangible” at Playcrafters, with Bruce Duling, in July 2019.

“I’m at a weird place, I’m so involved in so many arts, stand-up and comedy shows, I go through phases,” Natarelli (who co-starred in last summer’s Playcrafters’ “Something Intangible”) said. “I want to do a show again; I’m looking for stuff. I was supposed to be assistant directing ‘Spamalot’ (at Music Guild).”

“It was an instantaneous thing with the shutdown, I didn’t know what my role would be with shutdowns,” he said. “I wanted to help when I saw nobody was trying; I’ll do my own thing. Circa has done a number of things. They’ve been doing cool things.”

Among things the $1 Producer Project has supported are:

  • 60 Second Film Challenge — an online filmmaking challenge open to anybody to create a one-minute film, for a chance to win prizes and open up a great community of filmmakers to collaborate and share their audiences with each other.
  • The Lunchbox: Live — A sketch comedy show featuring local comedians’ and writers’ work performed by local actors.

Tickets for “Lonely Planet are $10, available at Showtix4u.com/Events/OneDollarProducer.

To subscribe to the $1 Producer Project, visit patreon.com/OneDollarProducer.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.