What do you do during a lockdown, when your big June show has been cancelled? Well, put on a live digital international production between New York and Ireland with over 20 artists of course!
The dreaded moment came. Like many artists with live events set to happen this spring and summer, we had to make the decision to cancel our show. It was tough – we were so excited about it. The Gods of the Ozarks by Matthew Cole Kelly was our world premiere production that we had opened at The Civic in August 2019, to critical acclaim and great audience response, and we were really excited to transfer the show to the Smock Alley theatre in the city centre in June, to continue its life and share a play we were really proud of – funny, imaginative, moving, with big themes – to further audiences.
But then a pandemic came along and it wasn’t to be. We wondered if there was some other way we could share the play online. But in discussing options, we realized this play is, as The Irish Independent called it, “pure theatre.” Our production is fast-moving, full of theatricality in its physicality and movement and its evocative set and 1800’s costumes – that no online version would do it justice.
However, at AboutFACE, we’re a stubborn bunch. We still wanted to work with this cast, this writer, these designers. We still wanted to put on a show that first week of June. We felt it was important at this time that these artists got to work, create, perform, to share their talents with audiences, to be of purpose. But what could we do? How to make something theatrical – but digital? It would have to be new, short, innovative … and ambitious. We put our thinking caps on, banged ideas off some advisors, went for some (2km) walks … and a key question popped up.
What would we not even have considered doing before this crisis?
How could we make this an opportunity, instead of a disappointment? And we thought of our transatlantic connection. It’s pretty deep in the DNA of AboutFACE – Anna is from Wisconsin and I’m from Dublin, the first few plays we put on at The Civic when we started out were new American plays, we then spent 10 years in New York … could we use this as a chance to bring Irish and American theatre artists together for a special project? Then we started to get excited. What if we paired the eight cast members of The Gods of the Ozarks with eight super actors from New York? And what if we brought in eight playwrights who have been involved in our NEWvember Festivals of New Plays (which in the past have featured over 30 Irish and American writers) including Ozarks writer Matt, and have them write short plays for two actors, set on a Zoom call between the States and Ireland?
Now that started to sound rather thrilling.
It all came together very quickly. Our Irish cast went from being disappointed about the cancelled show – to being exhilarated about jumping into this new project. Our first choice actors from NYC included performers with Broadway credits – they all said yes, as soon as we asked. Even though we told the eight playwrights we’d send them photos of two actors and they’d only have one week to write a three-minute play for them … they said, yes, absolutely, count me in.
Suddenly TRANSATLANTIC TALES 2020 was a go!
To have these plays ready by the first week of June, we’d have to move quickly. Once we had all 24(!) artists signed up, we held a live draw on Youtube (you can watch the replay here) where we randomly pulled the names of the actors and writers out of a hat … and it was just so exciting to see the combinations that came together. To pair actors we have worked with in New York with actors we’ve worked with in Dublin, who we only would have thought we could put in the same play in our wildest dreams – and getting to commission eight writers we adore to create brand-new stories for them to star in. The line-up just got more and more exciting with each pairing.
And we’ve ended up with this brilliant line-up of short new plays:
- Zooming For Home by Seamus Scanlon starring Amie Tedesco & Kathleen Warner Yeates
A mother and daughter, both actresses, both rivals, catch up …
- Kilkenny, KY by Emily Bohannon starring Brandon Jones & Helena White
A guy in Kentucky and a girl in Kilkenny make plans for new beginnings …
- The Rogue Om by Matthew Cole Kelly starring Kevin Collins & Darina Gallagher~
A distanced couple share some surprising news over a glass of wine …
- From a Distance by Krystal Sweedman starring Orlagh Cassidy & Mark Tankersley
A brother and sister deal with the competing demands of family and career …
- The Thin Veil: A Pandemic in Five Zoom Calls by James McLindon starring Erin Chung, Michael Rhodes & David Ryan
Two old friends (and a daughter) take their chances through changing times …
- Screen by Rachel White starring Megan Day & John Keating
A mother travelling in Ireland keeps in touch with her son in America, a healthcare worker …
- If You are Dissatisfied with your Apocalypse... by Neil Sharpson starring Kate Grimes & Paul Nugent
A woman turns to her spiritual leader, worried about the end times …
- Beginnings by Melisa Annis starring Maureen O’Connell & Richard Topol
A New York baker and an eager young Irish girl discover what they have in common …
It’s a fab mix of comedies and dramas, all full of heart and thrillingly performed. We’ve been rehearsing them over Zoom the last couple of weeks, and we’re so excited now to share them with The Civic audience. We’ll be doing a Live Premiere on Saturday June 6th at 9pm, where you’ll get to see all 8 plays, plus we’ll have a Q&A afterwards with artists joining us from Ireland, New York and L.A. We can’t wait! You can get your tickets here.
So in the first week of June, when we would have been doing our cancelled show, instead we’ll be sharing eight new plays online with more than double the artists – and across the globe.
Maybe even in a crisis … some great things can happen.
We hope you’ll join us June 6th for some transatlantic tales …
Paul Nugent is Co-Artistic Director of AboutFACE