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Zooming Along Part 2

20 Oct 2020 10:31 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

by Bara Swain

Fast forward.  My second monologue selected for “Climbing the Walls” has a comical history.  In response to a call for submissions for another Zoom opportunity, Theatre is the Cure (TITC), I followed their specific guidelines – and that’s an understatement.  The writing prompts were: (1) Theme: With/in / With/out (interpret as you like); (2) Prop: Something you’ll die without; (3): Location: somewhere dark, (4) Line: Nowhere but here, (5) Actor: wiry female, 20 something, funny, intense, androgynous but not boyish, adorable.

Yikes!  With less than 12 hours to write, I dripped a pot of coffee, obsessed, googled, cranked out a monologue, submitted and waited for my acceptance or rejection notice.  Several hours later, I received a gentle reprimand.  “Your monologue is too long.”  Browsing the instructions again, I noticed that I overlooked one important element of the challenge:  a strict time limit of two minutes.  My unspectacled eyes misread the number and I crafted my piece for a time-frame of seven minutes.   Over the next few hours, I redirected my energy and dashed out a two-minute monologue and hit the “send” button.  Whoop whoop!  The Golden Girls was selected for performance.

What I learned:  Read the instructions.  Then read them again. Acknowledge your errors and be grateful for a flexible Artistic Director.  Communication is key.  In fact, the “twenty something, wiry, adorable actress” was unavailable.  I reached out to a twenty something, wiry, adorable actress whose work I observed at the recent FAB Zoom.  Jessica Washington, whom I never met before, was cast in the role and, subsequently, invited to return for another program.  This type of networking serves the company, the actress and the playwright.

Danielle Bourgeois in YOU MIGHT AS WELL (inspired by a prompt from "Theatre is the Cure."

Yikes!  But what should I do with my original submission?  I wrote a second draft of You Might as Well and reached out to Mara Mills to see if she’d consider a second monologue.  Upon acceptance, I incorporated several of her notes and brought actress Danielle Bourgeois on board under the direction of Christian Haines, a California resident.  In fact, I’d only met Christian weeks earlier when he was assigned to direct my Zoom play, Carolina in the Morning, as a first-time playwright applicant with Shotz-Amios.  I was eager to work with him again. This experience differed from the live Zoom events that I’d participated in previously and, truthfully, it was another wonderful collaboration.  With a stage and film background, Christian experimented with the Zoom format.  You can see his results and judge for yourself.

CAROLINA IN THE MORNING, directed by Christian Haynes

What I learned:  Mutual respect is the foundation for artistic relationships.  And it’s a win-win. Evaluate the abilities of your colleagues and their enthusiasm.  And give back!  This duo will be invited to our next program at Urban Stages.  Oh, I also learned that a rehearsal can be ruined by a thunderstorm.  Check the weather, playwrights, when you’re scheduling a final rehearsal!

Meanwhile, I’ve had the opportunity to write several more monologues intended for Zoom with different outcomes.  During a 24-hour challenge with Vintage Soul Productions, I wrote three five-minute monologues for three specific actors who self-directed their performances – off-book! – over an eight-hour span.  Another monologue, You Can’t Argue with Fact, written for a recent TITC challenge was accepted and performed live last Friday under the direction of the Artistic Director, Hannah Logan, just as I was entering tech weekend for another project with Planet Connections Play Fest.

What I learned:  When actors are self-directing their work, make sure that their audio-visuals are working.  One monologue in Vintage Soul Productions could only be heard in a whisper.  That was disappointing.  Another monologue wasn’t fully realized due to misinterpretation of the time and place.  The most successful piece was where the actress reached out to me with questions about the text, context and transitions.  Playwrights, be open to communicating with your actors.  Exchange contact information!

Moving on: On Monday evening, The Southern Comfort Plays (a trilogy of short plays), opened and closed.  Yes, it was a one-night event. For this opportunity, I chose director Kim T. Sharp, a colleague of mine at my former stomping ground and my current home at Urban Stages.  These pieces were not written for the Zoom platform and, under Kim’s guidance, I made revisions to the story and tweaked the physical action.  The Planet Connection Associate Artistic Director cast the three plays and a rehearsal schedule was finally confirmed.  The rehearsal process for this presentation was intense but very satisfying.  The technical elements working on Zoom were challenging, from entrances and exits, to overlapping dialogue (it doesn’t work on Zoom), to the use of stage directions.   I was particularly impressed by the skills Kim displayed, from his supportive tone and his listening skills, to his discussions on character development. The cast of The Southern Comfort Plays were committed, professional, and hard-working.  Where I fell short as a playwright, their enthusiasm and gratitude sustained me. 

THE SOUTHERN COMFORT PLAYS, a trilogy, directed by Kim T. Sharp

Planet Connections Zoom Fest

What I learned Know your venue and ask, in writing, what the expectations are for the guest artists.  After the fact, we learned that a technical director was assigned to the performance. In retrospect, our learning curve on Zoom has grown in leaps and bounds due to this oversight.  In all fairness, a designated stage manager was also offered to assist early on in the process.  We dropped the ball there.  Again, know the roles of each member of the “team” involved, from playwright to director to the producing organization … and the actors.  Are they union?  Non-union?  Respect everyone’s role.

In conclusion:  Zoom is a platform that enables theatre artists to continue to create during this unprecedented time.  With all of its flaws and impracticalities, until our remaining theatres open and it’s safe for audiences to fill the houses, it’s a great and sustainable way to stay motivated, set goals, take risks, and be productive.  The Zoom cloud may be challenging and, yes, you may be elated, disappointed or frustrated with the process and the product!  But it’s a wonderful opportunity to build community, nurture relationships and begin new ones, as well.  (Thank you, Mara!)   

Yes, it’s a learning curve but here’s the bottom line:  If you’re not in the game, you can’t play.  So let’s keep playing, playwrights!

In the meanwhile, stay safe, everyone.  Oh, and if anyone can suggest a mnemonic for differentiating wild cats, send it my way!

The article is reprinted courtesy of Mara Mills, Artistic Director, Studio Theater in Exile:

Here are some of my upcoming Zoom projects:

UNFATHOMABLE, The Group Rep Theatre, CA

FOLDED, Warner Theatre’s 9th International Playwright Festival

FOLDED, Theatre Workshop of Owensboro

ALL MOTHERS WERE SUMMONED, Ego Actus Virtual Play Reading Series

JOANNA HOGG, Women in History, FAB@Barrow Group

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW, Pastiche Series

RESPONSIBLE, Greenhouse Ensemble Quarantine Series

THE AFFIRMATION PLAYS (audio), Borderless Productions

UNFATHOMABLE, The Group Theatre, CA

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