Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Producing Theater Online

Clockwise from top left: self, Brian Pedaci, Chennelle Bryant-Harris, Carrie Williams
"The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth"
(Brave Spirits Theatre, 2020)

Now let us speak in defense of "Zoom Theatre."

I have not witnessed as many plays online as perhaps I should have by now. There are plentiful professional recordings of plays from before the quarantine that were shot before an audience using several cameras. Like movies, they are.

Hamilton will be released on July 3, and it will appear as one of those. Even more bizarre, filmed iin the summer of 2016 by a company and for an audience who have no idea that Donald J. Trump is about to be elected President of the United States.

We have been paying to stream independent film, but I really should be accessing productions from behind a paywall to support theaters. The critics on Three On the Aisle have promoted several events which, unlike their former offerings in New York City and elsewhere, I can actually view from the safety of my own home.

However, in spite of my desire to support my fellow artists, I have avoided diving too deeply into the world of “Zoom Readings.” There have been plentiful opportunities to hear actors read new scripts or even the works of Shakespeare, but when you spend your working day staring at a screen, returning to it for entertainment is a particular investment.

Speaking of which, anyone else's butt hurt? I mean, from sitting? Just me? I digress.

There have been some impressive attempts to elevate the medium, and the time that goes into them makes the experience much more rewarding.

Earlier this week I was a participant in the Brave Spirits Theatre reading of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, a forerunner to and by all accounts the inspiration for not only Shakespeare’s own Henry V play, but also the Henry IV plays.

Running at only ninety minutes, this work, entirely in prose and whose author is lost to history, the work his none of the grand poetic turns of Shakespeare’s work (nothing to match “Muse of Fire” nor “Band of Brothers”, no “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world” to be found here) it’s full of humor, drama and above all jingoistic bravado, this is by all records the play that created the English appetite for historical drama.

Bedroom Studio
Directed by Kelly Elliott (she also directed Shakespeare’s Henry V for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival last summer) we had a couple rehearsals before performing once, live streaming on YouTube.

The thing about Zoom performances is that it is incumbent upon the actors to provide their own costume, to create their own set, and must work together to create props which, if shared, need to be identical. We had great fun putting it all together, and it was helpful and rewarding that BST provided dramaturgical commentary before and after the work. Any technical issues could be addressed in real time in the comments section, which was also a bonus. Some of us were even following along “backstage.” It was kinetic, lively, and loud.

There is a certain forgiveness audiences will provide a free performance, generously offered by a company trying to connect with their audience during this quarantine, and even it has to be said, to remain relevant.

Last weekend my wife and I paid admission (they had asked for a minimum one dollar donation) to watch Cleveland Public Theatre present a live “virtual reading” of Excerpts from Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation by India Nicole Burton.

Also a history play, about the women of the Black Panther Party, presented in prose, verse and dance, it was a highly choreographed piece, had a fluidity by featuring few performers (four, the screen was complete the entire performance) and it was brief, only forty minutes.

CPT is also creates a sense of live theater by giving audience members the chance to communicate before and after the performance (not during) and these online offerings not archived. They’re live, like theater should be, and not recorded. Subtle differences in performance, or outright mistakes, are for that audience only.

That one way, that one time, just for us. Just like live theater.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Short Play Project: Parenthood Series

Since we started having living children time has collapsed. Just last night (it was a very hot night, I could not sleep) I was thinking of the rooms in our house, and the different uses they have had.

My wife and I each had our own office, which were sacrificed; one room for the children, one for a playroom. Then two rooms for the children. Layers of paint, the acquisition and letting go of various furnitures. The music, the craft, the arguments, the injuries. And finally, coming to terms with the reality of their one day moving on.

Several writing prompts inspired reflection upon the condition of parenthood, lovingly interpreted by these performers.

Performed by Emmy Cohen & Moira Cohen

Performed by Tim Collingwood

Performed by Derek Koger & Evelyn Koger

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Short Play Project: Quarantine Series

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says 'John J. Caswell, Jr. @johnjcaswelljr No offense but I'm not going to go see a play reliving any of this. 10:49 AM 3/24/20 Twitter for iPhone'Yes, I have written a few short plays about sheltering-in-place. I mean, I'd rather not. I posted a tweet from theater artist John J. Caswell, Jr. that read, "No offense but I'm not going to go see a play reliving any of this."

He posted that two months ago.

But sometimes inspiration strikes and sometimes the results are enjoyable. Almost a month into quarantine I wrote Quarantine, which has been delightfully rendered by my long-time friends Ben and Pam, detailing the busy life of stay-at-home Gen Xers.

I've been catching up a lot with old high school friends on Zoom recently, and was made terribly aware of how the lion's share of my good high school memories are from the last several months of senior year. Having teenagers at home myself, I much more aware of what they are missing than what I currently am, in the form of cancelled concerts, parties, and ceremonies. A month ago I wrote Prom, to lend some perspective, perhaps, to the turns that life can take.

Finally, I have included here Giovanni, which started as a in-joke at work, but actually provides some sympathy to the much-maligned character of Friar John from Romeo and Juliet.

Performed by Ben Dooley & Pam Turlow

Performed by Maria Guardino Schreiner

Performed by Tim Keo

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Short Play Project: Philosophical Series

The short plays are always written in the morning, before I have had too much time to think, or censor myself. Sometimes the writing is merely a conversation I have with myself, debating an issue, or a thought.

I am not religious. I have considered Buddhism, though I would hardly call myself a practitioner. Even if I were, I am not prepared to consider that a belief, but a philosophy. These works reflect my recent feelings about finding peace, and making sense of a complicated planet.

Performed by James Alexander Rankin

Graphic blandishments by Nancy Shimonek Brooks

Performed by JR Simons

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Short Play Project: Action Figure Series

Many among us are sheltering-at-home alone ... or with people who do not make willing acting partners. Several actors have requested monologues, but I haven't written many monologues so those went fast. Most of my short plays require two characters. A small number, even three.

These short plays have been executed with the use of action figures, Funko dolls and pretty ponies, and they have been particularly popular.

Performed by Assad Khaishgi

Performed by Michele Kosboth

Performed by Carrie Williams

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Spaceship Earth (film)

Florian Schneider Lives
DID YOU KNOW ..? You can watch first-run art house films, streaming courtesy of your friends at Cleveland Cinemas. (This is not a paid advertisement, support your local businesses.)

Last night we watched Spaceship Earth, a new documentary directed by Matt Wolf, about Biosphere 2, its origins, what went wrong, and what didn’t.

For those too young to remember, or are only aware of the Pauly Shore flick, Biosphere 2 is a minor footnote in 90s history, like the Hale-Bopp comet, or Pauly Shore. It was an enclosed environment in the Arizona desert, and eight individuals sealed themselves inside for two years to see how well they could survive.

My wife and I were trying to remember the details. Didn’t they abort the mission? Didn’t they “cheat” somehow? We remembered them going in (it was in September 1991) but didn’t remember them coming out.

A great deal of the film is dedicated to the foundations of the project which go back to the 1960s. A band of surprisingly capable and intelligent back-to-the-earth people, led by a charismatic if somewhat odd leader, practice avante garde theatre, and teach themselves how to live sustainably, on the earth, and then on the sea. It is a remarkable American story.

By the 1990s, the world had changed and with media attention their greatest experiment, and the personalities of those involved, were picked apart and exposed as less-than-science. This is why people like us, who were only casually paying attention, were left with the impression that it was a failure. Biosphere 2 is a punchline, like Pauly Shore.

But the film’s sincere portrayal of the the founders of the experiment, and what happened to them is what I found most relevant. We have been fighting the same battles since the 1960s; those who are exploring new belief systems and new ways of doing things, against those who just hate those people, and seek dominance, control, profit, and adherence to the dominant paradigm.

This fucking guy.
In this case, ageing hippies built a very sophisticated terrarium, and when their work was complete, Steve Bannon stepped in, kicked everyone to the curb and seold the science to the highest bidder.

Yes, that Steve Bannon. It’s a real what-the-fuck moment. Just watch the movie. What’s amazing to me is that it is impossible to watch, listen to, or read anything today without seeing just how everything that has ever happened has led to this current moment. Baby Boomers have been waging an inter-generational civil war for almost sixty years, the idealistic innovators vs. the aggrieved demagogues, and have destroyed the nation in the process.

“Spaceship Earth” was released May 8, 2020.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Short Play Project: Humiliation Series

Writing these short works has provided me the opportunity to work out some of the more embarrassing moments in my life. I have been every one of these characters.

Performed by Tracey Gilbert & Robert Buckwalter

Performed by Michelle Ho & Kylie Nolan

Performed by Samantha Cocco, Hannah Storch & Carrie Williams
You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.