A new play written by John Long MALS ’96 is available for online viewing through the Phoenix Stage Company’s YouTube Channel.
Titled Learning Experience, the play explores individual experiences of living in quarantine during the pandemic in the first half of 2020. Eight people, ranging in age from 18 to 70s, tell their stories in the form of monologues to be posted online. The stories reveal what their lives were like before the pandemic and how they’ve changed during isolation.
“Some characters work from home, some go into work, some don’t work at all, but all are motivated to share a learning experience online to communicate with people they will never meet or know,” Long explained. “By turns moving and humorous, these characters share a desire to continue living, learning, laughing, and growing in a time of crisis that affects everyone.”
To watch the play, go to www.phoenixstagecompany.org and follow the link to the play on the theater’s YouTube channel.
Theater, Long says, has always adapted and survived for thousands of years. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, theatermakers continue to adapt.
“Nothing can replace live theater completely but, through a combination of evolving technologies and theater artists thinking about different approaches, I think we can present a hybrid of theater and video that will satisfy the desire and need for drama focused on characters, not action,” Long said.
Long and Learning Experience Director Drew Scott decided to not do a live Zoom performance because of the possibility of constant technical glitches that distract the audience from the content. “If the audience cannot simply watch, and enjoy, a production without dealing with technical issues, Zoom is not recreating a live theater experience. When technology gets in the way of storytelling, it is not useful,” Long said.
Long, who has previously written and directed live theater and video documentaries, wrote the play specifically to be produced online so it was designed to fit the technology.
“This is not a stage play adapted for recording. Each actor rehearsed with Drew and me on Zoom. I did rewrites based on those rehearsals with actors. Once the individual performance with a specific setting, props, and costume was finalized, the actor recorded their monologue in one take on their computer or phone. In that way, there is an urgency to the performance because there are no cuts, no hidden mistakes, no interruptions from technology. Just a person talking directly to the audience, like live theater. Later all the individual videos were edited together,” Long said. “Drew and I feel that using this style has preserved the intimacy we love in live theater and also allowed us to bring it to an audience that is home and will probably be home for the near future.”
The initial play presentation in October 2020 was a successful fundraising event for Phoenix Stage Company, based in Oakville, Conn. In January 2021, Phoenix Stage, along with Long’s ZeeLand Productions LLC, revived the play for an open run.
Preston, Conn. resident Long’s plays have been produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Seventh Sign Theatre in New York City, as well as the Alliance Theatre, Little Theatre Workshop, and Warner Studio Theatre in Connecticut.