Before the pandemic, the Philadelphia region had a sweet arrangement with the Free Library of Philadelphia. Thanks to the generosity of Juanita Vega de Joseph, Assistant Head of the Library’s Art and Literature Department, we were holding our DG Footlights™ readings (and any other event we chose) in its beautiful new Heim Center.
After the pandemic, we had Zoom. No wonder our playwrights said, “I’ll wait!” when offered the option of taking their scheduled reading online. After all, having a newly restored Alexander Calder banner as the backdrop for your reading beats any Zoom background anytime.
It was possible the Library wouldn’t reopen for at least a year. I knew playwrights would get tired of waiting. But how to convince them that Zoom was a viable alternative?
“A 10-minute play festival!” I thought. “People just need to see how well Zoom readings work.” And even though I was warned I would have to include every play submitted, I blithely put out the call.
I received 22 plays. I’d like to say I was undaunted, but I wasn’t. I was very daunted. How was I going to handle 22 playwrights, 22 directors and the 100-or-so actors they would bring? It was clear I couldn’t handle it. Not with all those people involved. So, I broke with DG Footlights™ protocol and announced I would cast the plays. Then I went to Excel, set up a spreadsheet, and discovered I could do them all with just ten actors.
CINDY DLUGOLECKI, one of my Ambassadors, had recently held a reading that used around a dozen people, so I combined her contact list with mine and, miraculously, we found exactly the 10 actors we needed. After about an hour on Zoom, most people start looking for something to dust, so I vowed to keep the Zooms to around 60 minutes and separated the plays into four categories so that no more than six plays would be in each program.
“Whew!” I thought. “I did it!” Then I realized I knew nothing about Zoom. Thankfully, my other ambassador, CHARLES PRIMERANO, is a tech wizard. Charlie handled everything, and there was a lot to handle! Some actors were on laptops, others on iPads and one was using his daughter’s cell phone. Charlie helped them figure out the best way to set up their equipment and access their scripts. He standardized the look of the plays and decided how to introduce them. Finally, he acted as stage manager and kept everyone in line.
Rehearsals were handled in four nights—assembly line style. Step one: read through a script. Step two: provide direction and answer questions. Step three: read the script again. Then move on to the next.
Opening night came and we discovered we were sold out! 99 folks showed up on both Friday and Saturday nights, and over 60 for each of our two Sunday performances. Somehow, the Philadelphia Free Press discovered us and “sent” a reviewer, who sat through the entire festival and had very nice things to say.
I wish there was space to thank the 35 people who made this festival possible, especially the 22 playwrights who put their faith in my hare-brained scheme. I couldn’t have done it without their enthusiasm, cooperation and generosity. They showed the region that DG Footlights readings on Zoom work.
Having organized this play festival I can state categorically that you can do it, too! Just be prepared to go a little crazy.