In a time of COVID-19 with its ramifications of social isolation, two theater companies are extending a hand across continents and borders as a way to connect cross-culturally and work collaboratively through the medium of live theatre.
Miami’s Juggerknot Theatre Company, producers of Miami Motel Stories (MMS) and PopUp Theatrics, a New York-based site-specific immersive theatre company led by Tamilla Woodard and Ana Margineau join forces to produce “Long Distance Affair,” an original production comprising 18 theater artists in six international cities.
Woodard directed "Miami Motel Stories: Little Havana" in October 2017 and Margineau directed "Miami Motel Stories: North Beach" last February.
“This is a response to the quarantine and a way to connect artists from all over the world,” says co-producer, Tanya Bravo, executive director of Juggerknot Theatre Company. “Human interaction is so important, especially during quarantine and the pandemic, we wanted to create a sense of intimacy and a way to connect in a virtual world.”
“We unite audiences with different cultures and cities through an interactive and immersive experience,” she says. “Audiences can react and communicate directly with the actors and gain a sneak-peek into someone else’s world.”
In “Long Distance Affair,” playwrights, actors and directors from Mumbai, India, Portland, Oregon, Mexico City, Mexico, Lagos, Nigeria, Beirut, Lebanon and Los Angeles, Calif., come together to create original virtual theater pieces.
Audiences have the chance to drop into as many as six cities and see a play performed by local artists in intimate ten-minute theatrical encounters.
Pia Haddad, a thirty-something actor who calls planet earth “home” is currently living in Beirut, Lebanon and working in conjunction with Lebanese playwright, Leila Buck, on a piece directed by Tracy Francis in Portland.
Haddad was living and working in London and New York until the pandemic hit and she flew home to be with family in Beirut. She plays the part of a movement teacher during the height of the pandemic, teaching her classes via Zoom.
Haddad studied at the Atlantic Acting School in New York City and has worked in film and theater in New York and London. She is the founder of 3K² Productions, a production company which creates pieces that break stereotypes and give a voice to unheard stories.
“I love the international collaboration,” Haddad says by phone from Lebanon. “I love the fact we can get a glimpse of different cultures and what it’s like to live in that country. It shows we all face the same issues.”
“It’s amazing to be part of something that will bring entertainment, fun and joy to people around the world in this time of COVID-19,” Haddad says.
“The concept and medium are incredible,” she says, noting that the live productions will take place at 2:45 a.m. and 4 a.m. Beirut time. “I’ll have to get up for it,” she jokes, “but it will be fun.”
Likewise, Buck brings an international perspective to her work. Growing up in Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, Canada, and currently living in New York, Buck says, “These experiences fuel my belief that the stories we tell, and how we tell them, have real impact on lives around the world.”
Closer to home in Mexico City, playwright Alfonso Cárcamo is working with Mexican actor, Naomy Romo, who has had both a film and theatre career, appearing in such films as the 2008 romance “Beverly Hills Chihuaha" with Andy Garcia and Drew Barrymore and the 2019 Juan Carlos de Llaca's film, "Locos por la herencia."
She is currently starring in French-born director Dylan Verrechia's "La pura vida," a family drama set in Tijuana, Mexico.
Rounding out the Mexico City production is director Henrik Cheng, a New York City theater generalist who is based in Singapore.
Cárcamo’s work has been produced in the U.S. and many Latin American countries including Spain, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina.
He echoes the sentiments of the other creators, saying that these stories resonate no matter where you live.
“Today, like never before, distances are only in the imagination,” Cárcamo says.
And imagination is a big part of Mumbai-born, New York City-based playwright Dipti Bramhandkhar’s “Mrs. Asha’s Benevolent Purposes and Small Causes Musical Medium Services (M.A.B.P.S.C.M.M.S.),” an original play created fir this project.
The piece is directed by immersive theater specialist Tai Thompson and performed by Neha Singh, an actor based in Mumbai, whose story of hosting on-line salons as a way to connect people during the pandemic, is the basis for Bramhandkar’s play.
Bramhandkar took literary license with Singh’s pandemic experiences and used her as the foundation for her fictional character while exploring the meeting points between prose and dramatic performance.
Last year, Bramhandkar had a sold out run at Luna Stage in New Jersey of her solo show “American Rookie,” about being an immigrant in rural New York State and a presentation of her play “Islands of Contentment” at the off-Broadway LAByrinth Theater’s Barn Series.
And during the pandemic, with no outside distractions, she wrote obsessively, creating 22 audio stories on SoundCloud, among other projects.
In M.A.B.P.S.C.M.M.S., she interweaves Indian music and storytelling to create what she calls “an unexpected something.”
“You’re invited to get as close and intimate as possible with someone on the other side of the world,” encourages Bramhandkar. “In a divided political climate, we shine a light on a shared human experience.”
“This story unfolds in Mumbai, but could take place anywhere with someone you know,” she says.
“As a theater company, this is a blessing,” she says. “The virtual world is yet another space to create in. Despite the pandemic and borders being closed, we found a way to travel around the globe.”
“Come with an open mind,” she emphasizes. “These pieces are for you.”
Ticket Site: ci.ovationtix.com
Date: February 11-21, 2021.
The company matches participated with a small party of other travelers for globe-trotting encounters to three of these cities. Tickets are $40.