In days of isolation and a time to long for live theater, Juggerknot Theater, the company responsible for site specific, interactive plays "Miami Motel Stories" takes their show on the road, so to speak.
They've partnered with New York's PopUP Theatrics for "Long Distance Affair," creating a theater experience that takes the two dimensionalities out of the Zoom world we live in and make it three-dimensionally human.
As with every Juggerknot production, this is a no fear, dive in experience. They take what can seem like impossible to pull off projects and make them look seamless. But like their other productions, "A Long Distance Affair" has a heckuva lot of moving parts.
So, here's how it goes. And, really, it is something to see in a time where arts folks have no idea how the form will look when we enter the post pandemic era. Maybe "A Long Distance Affair's" use of televideo medium will become part of theater's new normal.
Before your affair, you receive a Zoom invite that, when you sign in, puts you into a "breakout room." There, you can see others waiting to go on their journey and there are two pilots, of sorts, that control the bells and whistles – like who is going where and when. Part of the fun is watching the intricacy of how these companies have taken the Zoom platform and made use of the high tech's many attributes.
"Long Distance Affair" whisks the participant off to one of six cities. For $15, buy a ticket for one experience, or for $40, do three. Having just one "Affair," while entertaining, doesn't really give the participant the whole experience of the project. Experiencing three of the solo shows feels more linear, like you are somehow involved in a play that has a beginning, middle and end.
After you sit for a bit in your virtual breakout room, your hosts assign you what city you'll be heading to. I may be going to Madrid, while another of the roughly 24 others in the breakout room are assigned to Miami, New York, London, Paris or Singapore.
Almost like being in the holding area of a Disney World ride, you then "enter" the experience and off you go.
My first stop was Miami where I had "signed up" for a Zoom Eyelash Extension master class. Out of all the invites "Julieta" has sent out, she's only had two people actually show up to the class. Written by "Miami Motel Stories" resident playwright, Juan C. Sanchez and performed by June Raven Romero as Julieta, she invites you into her small closet-like space, where she has all of her tools set up to show you how to apply the perfect lash extensions.PopUp Theatrics co-founder Tamilla Woodard directs.
The tutorial, "Uncut, Untethered and In Your Eye," veers off in all directions including her on again, off again relationship with her love Romeo. She hasn't seen him for 77 days because of the COVID quarantine. Then, she giddily tells you about where she lives in what she calls the best neighborhood in Miami, Westchester, and she touts its claim to fame, "Santa's Enchanted Forest." Oh, you really never get much of a tutorial. Julieta asks her students questions (for this one there were two of us "in the room" with Julieta, but they veer off into more about romance than about eyelashes. After about 20 minutes with Julieta, you are zapped back into the breakout room. If you've only bought a ticket for one experience, that's the end of the ride. If you've signed on for more, wait for the pilots to tell you where you are off to next.
Pilots Henrik and Michelle have everything in order. Their backdrop looks like a Grand Central Terminal schedule with bold white letters on a black background with the titles of the cities.
Next I am off to Madrid, and what is to become the favorite of my "Affairs." Jean Tay's "The Announcement" stars Angel Peraba who is in Madrid. Peraba's charisma welcomes you into his stark bedroom where he jumps, rolls around on the bed and just is as cheerful of a person you'd ever want to spend a conversation on Zoom. Turns out he has a secret to share with you about his day job and to give it away would be a spoiler. By the time you've left him, you are filled with joy and assured there's a miracle coming your way in a year.
Tay's solo play is beautifully poetic and Peraba delivers it with sensitivity and charm. "The Announcement," directed by PopUP co-founder Ann Margineau uses the medium in a way that puts you smack dab in the middle of Peraba's world.
Back to the breakout room, where I wait to be transported to New York for Ella Greenhill's "Cupido" with Dexter McKinney. McKinney welcomes you like you're his old friend. One on one he tells you he needs a favor and reminisces about how long it's been since he's seen you and chatting you up about the old days. You interact with him and, by the way, you should at every opportunity in "Affair." It's what makes each experience personal and different to each person, I'm sure.
He says, "you know how my father is" and you react. Ends up McKinney is a Cupid, one of more than 700,000, and he's concerned about Mina, a woman he can see from the window of his apartment who is desperate for love. There's more to this story, but again, spoiler alert if I tell you. Tai Thompson's direction is totally immersive and for a moment you can forget you're gabbing with McKinney on Zoom. For a moment, you feel like you're physical inside the New York apartment.
As a bonus (the producers wanted me to experience as much of "Affair" as I could. Perks of being a reviewer), I went to a fourth destination, London, where I meet Rebecca Peyton whose trying out Zoom dating and you're who she's connected with. Written by Lally Katz and directed by David Winitsky, Rebecca's had her share of blips on the dating scene. She jokes that, "Well, you've already seen my bedroom." Winitsky's direction makes things homey as Rebecca goes about her room hanging up clothes while talking and straightening things up a bit.
The two I didn't experience were Singapore's "Fight Club" and Paris" for "Some Surprise."
The day after my "Affair," I received a note to the Passengers aboard my trip. Apparently, the "pilots" had experienced some air traffic control issues and turbulence for their flight transfers, but that's how the stage the world is performing on now goes. It is unpredictable and uncharted, just like everything right now. Lucky for me, I guess my Zoom plane missed the bad weather. My experience was seamless. Let's hope the companies continue to create more journeys around the world.
Visit one solo destination for $15 (choose between Madrid, London or NYC); go around the world solo for three one on one encounters, $40 (Madrid, London and NYC). You can travel with strangers for three destinations for $30 (Singapore, Miami and Paris), or travel with strangers for one destination, $11 each (choose between Singapore, Miami and Paris).
"A Long Distance Affair" produced by Juggerknot Theatre Company and PopUp Theatrics, May 23 to May 30, 7 to 9 p.m. EST.