Last Sunday’s Zoom performance of a staged reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine may offer an introduction to the future of theater.
The new format was advanced by a remarkably effective merger of the immediacy of live theater and the dramatic impact of the cinematic closeup.
The actors Duke Williams, Toni Seawright, C.E. Smith, Austin Sky Parker, Sheila Joon Azim, Tait Ruppert, Dexter Haag, and Peter Mendes brilliantly rose to the occasion with only four rehearsals and Van Dirk Fisher, the director of the Riant Theater, before a large and universally appreciative but invisible audience, magnificently shaped a new art form.
Judging from the chat rooms and the talk back after the performance, it was a huge success.
Maybe this is the future of theater even after the pandemic is over. Theater has always been an art form for live audiences. Cameras were reserved for the waiting room for those who were late to the performance and videos of theatrical performances always fell flat but maybe it will be different now.
Director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre placed virtual backdrops behind the actors and the actors, all separated and in some cases in different states, reached out and past a joint between each other and exited and entered as they stepped in or out of the camera in front of which they performed alone.
The traditional narrator became a character in the performance, offering stage directions and blocking instructions as if he was organizing his remembrances of the story.
The reading took on an immediacy that a staged reading cannot provide, but the degree of difficulty remained almost unnoticed for an audience which tuned in from New York to California.
The infectious immediacy of theater and the dramatic impact of the cinematic closeup? Why not? Live sports events come to life for the fans in attendance and at the same time offer the close up for those viewing the game at home.
Van, always the scholar, always the innovator, always pushing ahead, told me that Zoom is perfecting moving backgrounds, such as a view of the highway from the car in motion. Imagine theater sets that move to support the live action of the performances on stage.
This could be coming as the innovation created by these remarkable creative artists.
It is unfair, but once again I am the lucky one. These people are unique!
This Sunday, October 25 at 8:00 pm (ET) my play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, will be performed in a Zoom/virtual public reading by director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre. CLICK HERE to get tickets.
When the theaters open up, it will be presented live on an open stage with audiences seated to watch it, but for now this performance is an example of an industry‘s remarkable ability to maintain itself and continue to create.
In early March of this year, we had just finished a table reading of the latest draft when New York started to shut down because of the pandemic. Just two days ago, nine months into this, Kevin R. Free, the New York director who ran that reading, begged on Facebook for people to please wear masks as he described the devastation on the performing arts industry and its 12 million artists:
“This is personal to us, our whole livelihood depends on social solidarity and we will not be labeled ‘non-essentials.’”
Artists have always been essential. They are the counterpoint to propaganda.
Now in an American election year which will define who we are, the theaters are closed. But this industry defines itself like no other: “The show must go on.”
In these times, an amazing cast of professionals (several of whom have Broadway credentials and all of whom are brilliant) are the ones to uphold this responsibility under these very difficult situations.
Artists in all forms are examples of independent courage. I found the same grit and determination when I first started to learn about writing for theater in Baltimore at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival years ago. I have come to love these people and this world which these artists create even though I am forever new to it.
There is a tenacity and courage in every member which is profound. Repeatedly, as I have met and worked with Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre on this production, and with others like Christian De Gré Cardenas and Mind the Art Entertainment, Sue Conover Marinello, Katie Marinello, and Parker Bennett, I have learned grit and courage from them.
For this production on Sunday night, I benefit from this resilience and creativity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Van has responded to this nightmare by developing the art of virtual backgrounds and performance skills for virtual reality theatrical productions.
Think about that. You get knocked down you get back up.
Please join me and watch these remarkable people offer a counterpoint to the propaganda of an election year.
Come if you can. And if you can’t, please donate to support the theater if possible.
I’m thrilled to share that a reading of my play, THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE (formerly known as Onaje), will be presented by the Jocunda Festival this Sunday, October 25th, at 8:00 p.m. (ET). There will be a Q&A afterward with the playwright (yours truly), the director, actors, and audience, led by Van Dirk Fisher, the director and founder of the Riant Theatre.
I would be doubly thrilled if you could join us — and help support live theater.
For tickets, register in advance on Zoom:
Donation: $15.00 to benefit The Riant Theatre. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with details about joining on Zoom.
THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE, a Black Lives Matter play, is an intricately plotted thriller that explores the consequence of racism on two individuals and their families.
Set in Eastern Maryland in the 1960s and 1987, two sons — one white, one black — meet by chance on the road, unaware that their families shared a life-altering connection years before. Now, their fate and their families’ futures may depend on the choices they will be forced to make.
THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE allows the audience to ponder: is the die forever cast by a one-time choice we make?
“Having run this Zoom Play Reading Series since the pandemic began, I’ve developed directorial and visual techniques that make our Zoom productions visually, emotionally, and viscerally stimulating,” director Van Dirk Fisher said. “It’s something people haven’t always associated with the play reading format. Audiences also love the interactive and spirited Q and A that follows,” he added.
An O’Neill Theater Center semi-finalist, Onaje appeared at the 2018 Fringe Festival to rave reviews and sold out audiences. Theatre Is Easy gave Onaje its Best Bet designation and described its “high stakes story” as “the most dramatic, fleshed out near-cinematic play I have seen.” Onstage Blog said Onaje “brilliantly brings a sense of warmth,” and Blog Critic described the play as embodying “exquisite conceptualizations and themes.”
CLICK HERE to download the Press Release.
While waiting for a single engine plane
By a grass runway at the edge of Hell
I feel the evening come and watch the rain
And when the last flight is, at last cancelled,
I feel the breeze from an open window.
It gathers and it recreates its self
Perhaps from its beginnings, I don’t know,
In that primal place which remakes its self.
How much I love you is what you must know.
It gathers and it recreates its self
At the center of my own cold zero
In that primal place which remakes itself.
Comfort only comes from our common ground
When eye meets eye to pass a smile around.
“You be in this box of artificial light.
It feels like a hot house where nothing blooms
Under this neon ceiling that burns all night.
Where is the daylight in this damn courtroom?
Why doesn’t the jury already know?
My lawyer says ‘let them deliberate’
And then goes out with the D.A. for a smoke.
I heard them laugh about ‘it getting late.’
Tell me, what is a crime against the State?
The guy bitch slapped my girlfriend and took her hat.
Trust me, he had this death wish that couldn’t wait
But my lawyer never told it just like that.
God I want to leave this room and be free.
The jury enters but does not look at me.”
I woke up this morning in the darkness
And I woke with the need for morning light.
All night my mind made people that I guess
Were made up for the dreams I had last night.
Maybe my brain is like some bag lady,
Controlling, self-examining, so smart;
Gathering bits and pieces on her way:
The Greek Oracle with a shopping cart.
But what if she flunks her own quick quizzes,
And dreams some life that isn’t, and never was,
And I’m caught between my life as it is
And her dreaming and what her dreaming does.
Her crazy friends are having too much fun!
I’m just real glad they head home with the sun.
A tall shadow controls my autumn pond.
It moves on long legs and will stare and wait.
After the late March ice had come and gone
And the exchanged songs of the frogs that mate,
The lily pads rise through the clear water
To shelter the colonies of black tadpoles
That are born as eggs, like pupil eyes, pure,
And, like the rest here, uncompromising souls.
The summer heat reveals the baby fish
Spawned by the survivors of last winter.
By August it is like my winter wish:
Blooming like some Eden, ready to enter.
The heron knows nothing of what I mean.
By noon it will have picked the pond all clean.
Off with the lid of the fast boiling pot.
With white wine in a glass in my left hand
And with its tail clenched in its repeating knot
And feeling the steam, which it understands,
Is a lobster, tonight’s dinner, in my right.
But all along its thrashing tail and legs
Thick, fresh and glassy in the kitchen’s light
Are thousands upon thousands of her eggs
Expelled as her last act of preservation.
Now above the boiling water she lies,
Claws forced shut, on her back, in my occasion.
Far from home her children cannot survive.
Hungry, interested as an observer,
Like a God, beyond hope or help, I hold her.
The fireflies burn out well beneath the stars
And leave the shadows of the trees around me,
Naked here, in a galaxy at war.
Poolside, in my moon reflection, I will be
Dropping out of this humid world down to
The unexpected.Guillotined to cold;
Feet first with the water closing over you
And then shoving off the pool bottom, old
And stretching out as the new world runs by
Drifting utterly empty, my life gone
In my underwater wake and my eyes
Closed till I hit the wall and stand alone
In the shallow end and I am reborn,
I arise baptized with the coming of the morn.
Here, self-preservation is metaphor:
Two dry riverbeds that run the water
From the neighborhood to the reservoir
Hold the water when it rains, in order
That a semi-septic self-made swamp pond
On two grandfathered acres, that won’t perk,
Might be the birthplace of this flower on
This shallow marsh. Each spring I watch her birth.
The “Blue Flag”, out of the Iris family,
Has a throat of spectacled gold, and grows tall
On a solid single stem; fun, friendly
But at her roots she’s poisonous to all.
Self-preservation, as final duty,
Creates its own narcissistic beauty.