Quarantine e-Theatre Engages a Diverse Community

A great and annoying feature of life during lockdown has been our reliance and enjoyment of our electronic devices. Our world has become smaller and our teachers have been figuring out how to educate our entire country’s children online and our healthcare industry has begun tele health sessions examining patients through online connections. On the other hand, we’ve also been struggling to connect with unemployment or pulled our hair out at our slow dial-up. Theater has necessarily moved online and there have been virtual concerts, interviews with stars in their homes and more theater streams than it would ever be possible to watch but there have also been challenges.

Locally, the amazing theater of the Capital Region has risen to the challenge and there are at least a dozen groups offering theater content online. Quarantine e-Theatre has been trailblazing this new terrain since its first show 4/2. Founded by local actors and directors Evan Jones, David Rook and Brian Sheldon, it has been presenting short works by local playwrights with local actors on Monday nights and a local theater company of the playwright’s choosing benefits from donations which in five weeks have totalled over $11,000. Monday, 5/11 brings “Center of Lying Down” to Q e-T’s screen by celebrated local poet Carol Durant who has chosen Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY, Inc. as the beneficiary. The play will be live Monday night and then will be posted on the group’s Facebook page with a donation link available.

Carol Durant in Schenectady Civic Players’ “An Inspector Calls”
Photo by Jenn Snell Moak

According to Durant, “There are online benefits that need to be embraced, such as Quarantine e-Theatre. David, Brian and Evan have created a diamond from the ashes of the pandemic. This gem can be used to preview new or existing work, chat with local and regional theatre companies and discover new talent behind the scenes and on the stage. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of their inaugural and creative inception.”

I am proud to say that I will be participating in the reading of Carol’s play playing the father whose son seems to have a slacker’s approach to life until more is revealed. It is a sweet, short family comedy that amuses. Carol says “I’ve been more creative during the Pause. My challenge is to keep managing my time effectively. I’m a poet, published author and actor. Playwrighting has been a new challenge that I love. My play is going to be read and performed by talented actors and hopefully viewed by thousands of actors across the world or at least fifty people. It’s very exciting and humbling.”

I asked Jean-Remy Monnay, the founder and Artistic Director of Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY, Inc if he found diversity in online theater to be better or worse than on the stages of the Capital Region. “About the same.” He replied “There is always work to be done. All these groups are doing different things and it’s great. It keeps things going. Theater in the Capital Region is alive and well. But just like when we were in buildings there is more education that is needed, meeting people and bringing them in. The majority of the audience in Zoom is white and the same as when we were in buildings but people are trying.”

Jean-Remy Monnay (far left) in Schenectady Civic Players’ “An Inspector Calls”
Photo by Jenn Snell Moak

Carol mentions “Illuminate Theatre and Creative Action Unlimited and actors and directors like Aaron Moore, Oliver Peters, Morgan Heyward and Michael Kennedy who have selected existing plays or created new work that incites dialogue and promotes different points of view. These works feature the depth of talent of people of color and women in the Capital Region that exists both backstage and onstage.” All have been active creating online theater. Michael Kennedy had a hugely successful presentation of an excerpt from her play featuring a cast of actors of color “Whitewashed” last week. Morgan Heyward’s company Illuminate Theatre which is devoted to giving actors of color opportunities is presenting “Covid Diaries” Tuesday night, 5/12 at 7.

As far as the state of online theater; audiences, donations and participants continue to grow. Brian Sheldon says that “I see the live readings as a way to keep creativity and the performing arts alive as we do our part to make sure we can pick up where we left off in February. Engagement, in my opinion, is the life line to theater. Anything we can do to keep the pulse going, I’ll do.”

David Rook adds “The amount of donations coming in to support our theaters has been mind-blowing. Schenectady Civic Players’ donations just ended with $3155. From 96 donors. That’s an average donation of over $30. Per donor.” About working wo put plays on online he offers “We’ve discovered that online can be its own medium. There are elements of live theater, television and radio but online is not identical to any of them. It’s able to reach large numbers of people, easily and live.”

As exciting as these new collaborations and experiments with a new form can be, there is a serious and mournful underside to creating theater in quarantine. David Rook says “I keep thinking about the future (of theater) as not dying when the plague is over. I don’t have any fear about Capital Region theater. However, it is possible-depending upon fiscal constraints-that some of our known theaters may not be able to survive. It’s hard to imagine how live productions will be able to be staged with audiences of sufficient size to support the endeavors and the physical plants.”

Remy gets to the heart of creating theater in this time of dislocation in responding to the horrific video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery which was revealed last week. “We can’t do anything. We can’t fight injustice. We can’t march. We can put it onstage. I’m all about education. We can make a difference. We can be participants. We can put on a play about injustice.”

“Center of Lying Down” by Carol Durant. Presented by Quarantine e-Theatre Monday 5/11, 8:30pm

“Covid Diaries” Presented by Illuminate Theatre Tuesday 5/12, 7pm

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