Like anything else, the internet age has its blessing and its perils. On the “blessing” side, it enables instant connection among people who could physically be oceans apart, which has allowed for unprecedent collaboration, communication, and innovation. Recently, it’s also become more important than most of us could have ever predicted as efforts to “flatten the curve” of the current COVID-19 pandemic have precluded nearly all in-person interaction.
However, on the peril side, the web can also foster the “viral” (pun only somewhat intended) spread of misinformation, serve as a convenient platform for hate speech, and give users the false sense that simply writing or sharing a post about a social problem on Facebook constitutes “doing something about it.” When we should be, you know, actually be doing something about it.
Among the many social problems that have emerged thanks to COVID-19 and compulsory social distancing is the cancellation of all impending theatrical events for the semi-foreseeable future. Along with being straight-up depressing, this seriously threatens the livelihood of hundreds of South Florida theatre artists, some of whom have instantly lost tens of thousands in future contracts and some of whom are now left with no source of income whatsoever.
Well, Matt Stabile, artistic director of innovative local company Theatre Lab, did something about it, and in doing so has constructed an opportunity for you, too, to do something about it. He’s established a benefit to aid these unemployed artists in the form of an Online Original Monologue Festival, which also aligns perfectly with the lab’s long-stated mission of fostering the creation of new work and inspiring artists and audience members.
This event will happen almost entirely on the ever-so convenient platform of Facebook (please do not pretend you are not already spending half of your day on Facebook, fellow millennials…) and will begin with two free online workshops adapted from Theatre Lab’s existing educational outreach program.
On Wednesday March 25th , Theatre Lab Director of Education Jill Carr will be presenting a workshop on the “Parts of A Story,” live from Theatre Lab’s Facebook page at 12:00 PM and again at 7:00 PM. On Thursday March 26th, Stabile will be presenting a workshop on the “Elements of A Monologue,” at 12:30 PM and 7:00 PM.
Absolutely anyone is free to join in, and pre-recorded versions of the workshop will also be available for anyone who cannot make the selected times. Those who participate will then have a chance to submit the stories and monologues they generate from these workshops to the festival until Friday March 27th at noon. The prescient theme for these brand-new pieces will be “hope.”
Theatre Lab will then select the best of these submissions and assign them to a gathered cast of area performers. Saturday will serve as a rehearsal period, and the performance will commence, again over Facebook Live, at 5 pm this Sunday March 29th.
On a more practical level, the event will also function as a sort of online telethon. Actors can choose to seek funds for to ensure their own financial safety or to dedicate their performance to another artist in need. While each performer is onstage, viewers will be encouraged to donate to that individual directly via links to their financial sharing platform of choice (Venmo, PayPal, Zelle, Cash App, or Facebook Pay.)
Also, PSA to any non-digital natives reading this: online financial sharing platforms ARE NOT SCARY. If my paranoid boomer parents deem something safe and easy to use, so it must be true.
If you want to know more about the event, Stabile provided further details and answered questions about the event via Facebook Live earlier today and will be doing so again at 7 PM this evening. Feel free to check it out or even to share the broadcast from your own feed and spread the word!
Any other South Florida writers (or non-writers who’ve always wanted to try their hand) should definitely take advantage of the workshops, because:
A: I’m betting you could use the incentive to close that Netflix tab and work on something already
B: It’s an awesome chance to learn new skills and get your work exposed to a large audience of local theatre fans and professionals
C. What else do you have to do in quarantine? You better not be thinking of going to the damn beach…
Meanwhile, anyone who needs some entertainment and a dash of hope in these strange times and/or who would like to help support local artists and ensure the future of South Florida theatre should be sure not to miss Sunday’s performance. Even small donations could add up to a substantial sum if we all do our part and tune-in, though of course anyone in a position to offer up larger amounts is welcome to.
This event is also one of the first instances I can recall of the South Florida theatre community acting like an actual community instead of a collection of oft-warring factions. Perhaps a more lasting attitude of unity and goodwill between local companies could be an unexpected upside to this worldwide tragedy.
Theatre Lab is also working on establishing a larger Relief Fund to be distributed amongst suddenly struggling artists and does not intend for the upcoming festival to be the last event of its kind. So, be sure to follow their Facebook page if you want to remain in the loop!
Though the online world has long been regarded as a rival to the theatrical one for audiences’ limited attention, it is now becoming an exciting new frontier. While nothing can replace the thrill and immediacy of live performance, the digital arena could prove to be a valuable means of making the theatre more versatile, resilient, and accessible. Until the world’s stages are safe for players once more, virtual theatre is here to keep the spirit of theatre alive and the ghost-lights in our hearts shining bright.