With theaters closed during the pandemic, performers are turning to the digital proscenium for creative new ways to connect with audiences. New York’s Public Theater streamed playwright Richard Nelson’s “What Do We Need to Talk About?” often called the first Zoom play. Closer to home, the Geffen Playhouse has extended illusionist Helder Guimarães’ “The Present” for the third time, selling out clear into October. And beginning June 27, presented by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts program GRoW @ the Wallis, comes “Fairyland Foibles,” in which the audience plays a part in shaping the narrative of each 15-20 minute episode. It streams every Saturday through August 15 at 7 p.m. on Facebook and Instagram and subsequently on demand.
“Most of the fairy tales and folk stories that get turned into movies are Eurocentric – Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm,” director Madeleine Dahm tells KCET about the satiric radio play/soap opera take on myth and folklore.“What about stories that come from other parts of the world, other continents? Why don't they get as much exposure?”
“Fairyland Foibles” presents stories from various cultures, including a West African folktale called “The Tutu Bird,” as well as tales driven by a West African character known as Anansi, a trickster who often takes the shape of a spider. Also included are more familiar characters like Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, but don’t be surprised if their stories play out not quite how you remember them.
Audience members are free to vote on variables like a new character joining the cast, which urban legend they might like to see dramatized or even provide a dialog to be incorporated into the next episode. Voting closes on Sunday at midnight, and the writing team of Alexander Sheldon and Tiana Randall Quant get started working with audience suggestions the next day. The script is finalized on Tuesday, on Wednesday they rehearse, then shoot and post for Saturday's stream.
Dahm and The Wallis Studio Ensemble were originally scheduled to put on a show in the Wallis' 150-seat Lovelace Studio Theater in June, but, like everything else, it was canceled on account of the pandemic. While in lockdown, they began Zooming with each other to keep their spirits up, but soon shoptalk took over as they asked themselves, "What would audiences want to see right now?"
"Then we began to discuss more, what would make us want to go online. Then we had an idea of how do we include the audience in the process, so they're not watching passively. So, the idea of an interactive audience element was there before we landed on doing an episodic play," says Dahm. "How do we engage with our audience and have a relationship with them rather than just put something up?"
Dahm and her ensemble hope they might perform the show on stage come January. "It's created and written like a radio play, so it would translate quite well to the stage with a social distancing format," she says, noting that actors would stand at mikes, away from each other and away from the audience. "This came out of our need to have a relationship with our community and our audiences like you do in live performance. Part of being a performer is to have that audience that can connect, hear the audience laugh, see their facial expressions, and feel the audience's energy. That's something that actors really miss."
Top Image: The Wallis Studio Ensemble presents Fairyland Foibles, featuring (top row L-R) Ella M Joseph, Kendell Byrd, Tiana Randall Quant; (middle row L-R) Trecey Dory, Kelvin Morales, Alexander Sheldon | M. Dahm