The post-pandemic “new-normal” that everyone has been predicting since the start of Covid has never been more evident than it is in theatre.
Remember live shows, having to buy tickets ahead of time, getting to the theater, parking, dining out, walking into a theater and getting a drink before finding your seat? Well, it’s all now making its way back, albeit slowly in some parts (Broadway, Off-Broadway), and faster in others.
Interestingly, for some theatre producers, a sort of hybrid or transitional phase is taking place that is changing how we approach story-telling and theatre overall. A good place to find this is The Rogue Theatre Festival, opening its 2021 season in a virtual realm on July 21st, 2021. Virtual is how the festival will get the plays to audiences, with some productions recording their play on stage in a real theater just like the good old days, while others crafted zoom productions or shot in a semi-cinematic style.
But there’s another side to this story that we hear very little about.
Out of the 2020 rubble that destroyed so many theatre projects and companies across the country, there are newly-formed theatre companies that are actually embracing this new normal. One such company, This Moment Productions, is a perfect example. Created with the knowledge that things have changed, they moved forward and launched right smack in the middle of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, they found their way to this festival, which also holds fast to this nothing-can-stop-us attitude.
The creation of Pamela Morgan and Dana Hall, two young, Chicago-based moms who also happen to be experienced theatre-makers, This Moment Productions does not apologize for pivoting towards this "new normal." Both are writer/playwrights, socially active, and have realized that there may indeed be a silver-lining to everything that has happened since the pandemic began, and so they created something new, and suited to the changing times. With the specific vision to “redefine the traditional concept of theatre, and reimagine how it is consumed,” the company has fully embraced the virtual world of theatre, the streaming of original works, and the immense opportunities that a virtual, world-wide audience could offer.
Dana Hall, who’s virtual play, The Tenant, was accepted in this Summer’s Rogue Theater Festival, insists that the “power of narratives will always find a way,” a sentiment that is becoming more of a battle cry for emerging playwrights. Realizing the potential in this new form of story-telling is something that has not only motivated her playwriting and producing work, but also her entire approach. “What this pandemic has shown the dramatic arts is that we can do better to be inclusive, equitable, and increase accessibility.”
The play itself, inspired by real-life events, was conceived and created specifically as a virtual event. Coincidently, The Tenant is perfectly at home with The Rogue. Written and directed by Hall, the play features Kelly Opalko, Mark Robinson, Sid Ross, and Bob Kinsella, with Keneisha Richards serving as production assistant.The comedic story of the Harlings is about a young couple that finds a dream home, but the house comes with a caveat. Contractually, the couple are obliged to keep a tenant - a complete stranger - already living there. Even though they know nothing about him, nor have met him, they agree. That’s when things get a little weird, as blood and strange noises begin to emerge from the apartment, and the Harlings begin to suspect things are not what they seem (you won’t believe what they discover!).
The tenant will debut Thursday, July 22nd from 9:00pm to 10:30pm and will be available for streaming up to one week after its debut.
An impossibility before Covid, The Tenant brings actors from California, Illinois, and New York City all together in the same virtual house. “We are no longer limited by geographical boundaries,” says Hall. For the producers, it is not cinema, or movie-like. It’s something new.
“Our goal is to leave you feeling like you watched a play. We have integrated features into our production, such as scene breaks that orientate the viewer to the scene much like a playbill would do. However, we do not pretend to be a movie nor do we mimic one in feel. We bring the truth and vulnerability of a stage play to the screen. We have done productions that borrow from Indie film techniques but the heart of the narrative has to be character-driven first and foremost. We actually filmed the version you will see at the festival LIVE and all the actors did their own scene changes and sound effects. It truly is something you have to experience to understand but I promise you after watching The Tenant later the next day you’ll be standing at the fridge quoting lines from it like the rest of us.”
For the company, as for the festival, there is no intention of replacing one thing with the other, but rather to achieve more flexibility. As other companies anxiously await the return of live-theatre, for this producing duo it’s more about a convergence of opportunities and adaptation. “When alone in my studio I miss the energy that runs through a production and the moments before the curtain opens can never be replicated or replaced,” says Hall.
“I’m eager too,” She says about returning to live-theatre, but “the virtual component we have added over quarantine will filter into the mainstream in various forms from virtual auditions, readings, performances, broadcasts of LIVE shows…” Hall, who’s bread and butter is acting, understands the new challenges (and benefits) from all angles. “There is something very vulnerable about the camera being in your space, it’s intimate and raw and there is no hiding from the lens. Some say virtual acting feels lonely and it is true it is a different way to connect, but it can capture the beauty of the human condition just the same- haven’t we all learned to step out of our technological comfort-zones a little these days anyway?
You can catch The Tenant at The Rogue Theater Festival later this month, but tickets are now available at: https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/53775
You can learn more about Dana Hall and her acting at www.DanaHallCreates.com.