As part of initiatives to keep afloat and mark its 10th-anniversary celebration, Quintessence Theatre Group (QTG) will be producing a one-time virtual performance of “The Waist-Up-Black-Tie Miscast Cabaret: A Virtual Fancy Fundraiser.” On Sunday, May 24, QTG performers will sing songs from musicals that were originally written with the opposite gender in mind. 

Rakeem Lawrence

“In this time, when we’re all in isolation, we’re yearning for human connection and human touch,” said QTG actor and singer Rakeem Lawrence. “I think the arts speak to that humanity, and I think we’re looking for something in the moment that we can connect to. Not everyone’s quarantining with a family or with a partner, and I think sometimes people feel alone. I think [this cabaret] adds a bit of light in these times.” 

Others featured in the Miscast Cabaret, hosted by Sean Close, include Leigha Kato, Daniel Miller, Megan McDermott, Andrew Betz, Jeffrey Carlson, Susannah Hughes and Jake Loewenthal. QTG Artistic Associate Lee Cortopassi is at the creative reins of the cabaret. 

While much of the cabaret’s setlist is still being ironed out, some of the songs have been finalized. Lawrence will perform the song “When He Sees Me” from the musical “Waitress,” which follows a young baker and waitress in an abusive marriage, who becomes pregnant and falls in love with her doctor.  

About the song, Lawrence said, “I think we can all relate to that moment when we know that we’re crushing on someone, but we don’t know if we want to take that step.”

QTG has brought on some new performers since last year’s cabaret, Lawrence said. 

“[Last year’s show] was a lot of fun,” he said. “You got some great moments of truth and honesty, and [the chance] to see some women singing some great normally-produced-as male-performed songs. It gave them a different trajectory of emotion that they got to play with. On the other hand, you got to see some men playing softer roles and showing a different side of them, and I think it was great to see the different tonalities that these artists have.”

QTG Artistic Director Alexander Burns and a group of young performers created QTG in 2010 as a classic repertory theater, running out of the Mt. Airy’s historic Sedgwick Theater. QTG strives to reimagine pieces of classic theater for modern audiences, while “remaining true to each play’s epic scope and poetic text.” The group has produced almost 50 plays, including “Diary of a Mad Man,” “Saint Joan,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Antigone.”

“This is a really fascinating moment for performance because a lot of people are being forced to find new ways of approaching [it,]” Burns said. “The technology is not designed for this kind of integration or flexibility, so it’s really interesting to see exactly how hard you can push it. The harder thing for us is getting someone to sit down and really listen to words, either sung or spoken. It’s just not something you traditionally do through a device, through social media. We’re sort of asking for a bending of people’s consciousness.”

Now in its second year, the Miscast Cabaret started as a fundraising event to celebrate some of QTG’s regular cast members. Though bringing theater to the public virtually comes with its challenges, QTG members have been doing their best to work around them. The cabaret’s accompanist recorded everyone’s instrumental track so they can sing over it “like it’s a karaoke situation,” Burns said. 

For this year’s cabaret, QTG is offering VIP tickets for an increased price, which allows guests to talk to performers virtually after the show. At the cabaret, the QTG team also plans to announce its plans for its next season of shows, accounting for the ever-changing situation surrounding COVID-19 safety measures. 

In an effort to perpetuate live performances, the QTG team is discussing the potential of producing shows in outdoor spaces throughout the summer, taking into consideration Philadelphia’s guidelines on social distancing. If Philadelphia-area coronavirus cases continue to decline and health restrictions loosen, the group plans to resume performances at the Sedgwick at some point in the late fall. Despite the uncertainty, Burns remains optimistic. 

“I’m excited to be part of a group of artists who are the vanguard of returning to live events and rethinking the idea of what live performance will be with all of these guidelines and restrictions,” he said. “The way in which a lot of the players of the theaters of the past survived during previous plagues, is they got together and traveled outside of the city limits and put on shows in town squares, in churchyards and things like that. We’re going to try to take a page out of that book and see what we can try to make happen.” 

The Miscast Cabaret will take place on May 24 at 3 p.m. General tickets come at a suggested donation of $75, and a VIP ticket can be accessed for $500 or higher. Audience members are encouraged to attend in fancy dress and indulge in cocktails. To make a donation and access the event, visit https://www.quintessencetheatre.org/