about The Shelter Plays, from the playwrights:
Judy Klass, author of the play “A Different Kind of Strong,” said, “Shakespeare had it tough during plague years when the theaters were closed, but that situation is a chance for playwrights to get creative in different ways, as he did. There’s no way to make up for the loss of a live audience. But there are new ways to connect with people around the country and around the world that one would not otherwise be able to collaborate with or reach. There’s something powerful and defiant about people in isolation finding ways to work together and watch each other’s work. The work we’ve created bears witness to a very strange time. Boccaccio’s The Decameron starts with a description of what it was like to live in Florence during a terrible outbreak of the plague,
before the characters in the book flee to a house in the countryside and pass the time by telling each other stories. Writing plays now in this bizarre and very dark moment allows us to document it for people who come later. ‘The Shelter Plays’ will help people make sense of the really crazy changes we live through and capture what they feel like.”
“ ‘The Shelter Plays’ are as close to real theater as most of us can get right now,” said James McLindon, author of “Social Distance.”
Roman D’Ambrosio, author of “Stranger/You,” said,
“ ‘The Shelter Plays’ will be remembered as a living testament to the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. Generations will look on these works as proof of the tenacity of the human spirit. The pandemic has taken many things from us, but it cannot take away our hope and our work.”
Romney Humphry, author of “Zoom Date,” said, “It’s a puzzling, terrifying time in history. Most theater lovers, used to intellectual and emotional sustenance from playgoing, are hungry for that connection of mind, body and spirit. The opportunity to breach that gap, however clumsily, is appreciated and healing. We will all return, but for now, ‘Shelter Plays’ allows us a chance to do what we love for all the right reasons.”
A New Playwright Emerges, Tom Scheft
I was minding my own business. Life was good. The only “corona” I knew was typically accompanied by a lime slice. Then one day I get an email from Andy Brier. We go back over 50 years to lives as campers and then counselors at Camp Powhatan in Oxford, Maine—idyllic summer experiences before my life got really complicated as a graduate student, public school teacher (briefly), and then professor at North Carolina Central University. This was BC: Before COVID.
It’s February 2020, and his email asks me if I know anything about 10-minute plays.
I think: Whaaa?!? Like … is that even a thing?
So I reply: Whaaa?!? Like … is that even a thing?
New email: He explains the concept and tells me to google it, which I do, and he even sends me a book about 10-minute plays by Glenn Alterman (very helpful).
Before I know it, I’m explaining things to the woman-I’m-madly-in-love-with (a.k.a. Kendy), and then we try to write one together—a challenging and rewarding task. We sent it to Andy, who “loved” it.
New email: Andy is soliciting plays to assemble together into a video. Could he show his partners our play?
Reply: Hell yeah! (I daydreamed briefly, and then set about writing my Oscar acceptance speech.)
New email (several days later): Some of the folks Andy is working with weren’t too sold on the play. It was, they said, “a little too East Coast.”
Philistines! I thought.
Andy tried to soothe me by telling me—again—how much he liked the play, but he was at the mercy of his partners. I thanked him for the opportunity and retreated to lick my wounds, put away the acceptance speech, and go on about life.
Enter the Pandemic
I was minding my own business: isolating, mask-wearing, and teaching on-line. (Ugh. Don’t get me started.)
Email from Andy: He wants to put together a series of original 10-minute plays based on “the coronavirus craziness.” He wants me to submit something.
My reply: I’m in.
I get started immediately. I’ve got an idea, and I’m writing and rewriting and yadda-yadda-yadda … Suddenly, I get a new email from Andy:
Here’s an idea. Imagine a mother and son who live next door
to each other. They are social distancing, so they have to yell
at each other to talk. She’s hard of hearing.
I loved the concept. My mother, when she entered her mid-70s, began having word retrieval problems. Another elderly woman I’d known had difficulty hearing and was constantly mis-perceiving words. It was sad, but … often hilarious.
It took only a short time for me to draft my play—WHAT?!
Andy LOVED it. So did his wife, Amy, an accomplished artist and, obviously, a genius.
But when he showed it to several playwrights, they all had the same critique: Funny. But it’s a sketch, not a play.
So I worked at it, brought Kendy in to tweak things, and after a while, Andy and Amy LOVED the play even more. And then Andy assembled a cast (Diane and Zach) and a director (Kathryn), and the next thing you know: there’s a video and I’m a freakin’ playwright.
(Please, hold your applause.)
Even better: Got a solid first draft of my acceptance speech.