Developing a voice for events and theatre is a key goal for Virtual Arts Productions.
In our first season in 2020, just after pandemic hit, we worked on creating a company of actors who could help us sound our voice. Our first piece was the reworking of an already published play, Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding. This piece was initially produced over thirty years ago and at the time was considered ground breaking because of the demolition of the static fourth wall. The fourth wall, at that time, shaped the boundary of most new theatre pieces as it had consistently done for centuries.
The well-established scenario of actors on the stage and the audience in seats had not been fooled with. Artificial Intelligence, led by writer and actor, Nancy Cassaro, ruptured the fourth wall during a two-year period of presenting expanded versions of the now classic interactive play, Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding.
This theatrical advancement was remarkable for the time in the late 1980’s. The tactile freshness of a well-known communal gathering, the wedding, effortlessly birthed itself into a genre of plays with audience intermingling with actors side by side, face to face and within whispering distance. All of these revolutionary steps, were quite suddenly considered wrong and not safe enough once the Covid 19 virus appeared on the grandest stage of all, the world at large.
So, as Virtual Arts Productions looked at the script of Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding in the spring of 2020, we knew that we had to undo all that had been done and recreate this stunning piece of ‘life’ theatre into a book show with a fourth wall that could only be broken by those audience members who signed onto Zoom. No more tactile freshness but, for this play, a new platform ready to be explored.
At first, we tried to make it absolutely brand new with a new story line and a narrator. This didn’t work at all. , we tried to play the play as an interactive piece ignoring the virus and performing as if we were in a virtual wedding hall. This didn’t work either and some actors voiced their concern. We continued ahead and did our virtual reading. It all felt wrong because we were not respecting the platform. Audiences enjoyed the piece and to our surprise, they thought that it was a Covid Wedding, which was a term just beginning to appear online.
We went back into rehearsal for a benefit performance of the play and faced the pandemic and found that the piece played well and was comforting for the audience and even provided a piece of entertainment in which they saw themselves as players. By this time, September of 2020, everyone had started planning Zoom Cocktail Parties and Zoom gatherings of any kind just to feel a sense of community. So the audience was right at home and Virtual Arts Productions had begun to find a voice by facing the present and representing the trials of Covid 19 in a realistic way instead of ignoring it.
This was success for us and we knew that the Zoom platform had the ability to bring audiences and actors together in a real life way. We even interacted with the actors via their own cameras and watched groups of two and four eagerly dance the Chicken Dance in the safety of their own homes.
During this season, Virtual Arts Productions also produced a show called “I Love You 2020’, a monologue piece comprised of the voices of eight LGBTQ performers who shared their experiences living with the pandemic and an episodic comedy titled “Look Ma, I’m On TV’ about getting the vote out for the 2020 Presidential Election.
These two plays were different in style but addressed VAP’s focus to be diverse and invested in the social climate of America.
Our final event for 2020 was a reunion of the original Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding cast and production team, TNT World Wide Holiday Hangout. We recognized the original company of the play and presented speakers in a retrospective salute to the history of the play and all of its participants. We gather almost four hundred viewers on Zoom and we produced our first musical piece, The Twelves Days of TNT.
Moving onto the 2021 Season, we produced a large amount of work including a Q&A type program with Samuel Goldwyn Productions featuring one of our actor alumni, Anthony Patellis, and his first starring role in a motion picture, Team Marco.
This was our first Q&A format event and we were able to use knowledge that we had in other Zoom productions to make this event easy for the audience and the guest stars to chat.
We produced and fine-tuned two more episodes of I Love You 2020 including an episode for Juneteenth hosted by Lynnie Godfrey and featuring a playwright, Donte Miller, who is doing a full production of his play “Georgia Borders” in our 2022 New Play Festival. The Juneteenth episode gave us an opportunity to work on addressing diversity and new groups of performers.
To round out the year, we produced to episodes of a talk show, Good Talk, in October we encountered the subject matter of horror films and how they are effected by politics and in November we embraced diversity again with a show dedicated to a style activist named Judith Rizzio. This episode featured two ancillary pieces: choosing to confront the reality of your sexual choice and the other was about words, specifically, the words describing the different sexual identifiers swiftly becoming part of language today, put into action and word by millions and misunderstood by most everyone else. This was a very eye opening episode for us all on the VAP team and it helped us gain a better foot hold in respect for diverse thinking.
Our final piece of the season was another interactive play, Leo & Lili’s Luau, about the struggle of a local Hawaiian family and a mainland family to accept their differences. This piece performed with actors from Hawaii to New York on Zoom defined our quest for establishing ourselves as significant purveyors of theatre and events that build bridges of concern and inclusiveness.
And that brings us to our New Play Festival, our first event in 2022.
Our selection of original plays in our New Play Festival speak to contemporary audiences in a modern and inclusive nature. We promote virtual readings and full length productions with actors and writers from across the country. We seek to present works by multicultural writers that explore far reaching viewpoints and opinions that create a forum for learning and discussion.
Our New Play Festival presents new works in a variety of genres, including comedy, horror, drama, and even a musical. We celebrate the lives of Ava Gardener, doctors on call, Zoom meetings gone wrong, and friendships in a pandemic. Our writers have been represented Off Broadway and regionally, including Charles Messina (The Wanderer/Paper Mill Playhouse), Darrel Alejandro Holnes (Franklin Ave/The Sol Project), and Larry Pellegrini (Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding/NYC, LA, Las Vegas, Chicago, National Tour and via Zoom benefiting the YWCA of Hilo). Author, Joe Leone, received “best writer” at the 2021 Accord Cine Fest for his feature, Death Sentences.
Rounding out this inaugural roster of playwrights are Nevada Playwrights: Scott Johnson, Jason Harris, Donte Miller, and New York Playwrights: Philip J Kaplan, Louisa Vilardi, Kathleen Kaan, Concetta Rose Rella and Micah Spayer,.
The Virtual Arts New Play Festival is supported in part by the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Virtual Art’s New Play Festival will take place the last weekend of February and the first weekend of March, 2022 on Zoom.
The schedule of plays and tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-arts-new-play-festival-festival-pass-tickets-222603080807.
For more information on Virtual Arts Productions, visit www.virtualartsproductions.org
The great American composer, Meredith Monk said “That inner voice has both gentleness and clarity. So to get to authenticity, you really keep going down to the bone, to the honesty, and the inevitability of something.”