A free website housing 15 short plays—all dealing with life in America during the COVID-19 Pandemic— has been launched at theshelterplays.com
So, how did this come about?
In early 2020, Andrew Brier was living in Denver, writing one-act plays, teaching a theater course, and trying to drum up interest in mounting a 10-minute play festival. When coronavirus struck the U.S. he and everybody around him went into quarantine. “The theaters were shut down and so were my plans and my life, at least for the foreseeable future,” he said.
One night, however, he had a dream. “I woke with the resolve that, even in this time of great difficulty, there was still an opportunity to do something significant, something theatrical,” Brier said. “I didn’t know if my idea would fly, but I put out the call and received an immediate positive response from playwrights all over the country. They were eager to join me.”
As the realization emerged that the theaters might not be able to open for a long time, he decided to rely on his experience as an independent filmmaker to produce the plays and discover a new audience.
Colorado playwright William Missouri Downs was the first to reply: “This is a great idea!” Downs submitted a Zoom play, “The New Abnormal.” Brier read the script: A playwright has to get used to the idea that her work is going to be presented online now, not live on stage. “It was perfect,” Brier said. This work would spearhead the Shelter Plays Project.
When asked about the project, Downs said, “Challenging times always make theater people more creative. I’m hopeful that this mess will lead to a new type of online art. It won’t be the theater, nor will it be a movie, but a new form of expression, a Zoom passport that can nudge the world a bit. If we can go to work from our toilets, and grub-hub from bed, why shouldn’t we be able to enjoy a playwright’s words without bothering to put on pants?”
By July, fifteen plays by twelve playwrights, more than thirty five actors, nine directors, three songwriters, and numerous artists and technicians had volunteered their creative talents.
“Some of the plays are deadly serious, but many have taken a more lighthearted approach,” Brier explained. “Either way, the voices of these playwrights are clear and true. Historically, in times of great tragedy or disaster, the stage comes alive and great theater can happen.”
COVID was a new kind of challenge. “As we progressed, we became aware that what we were doing was also on the ‘cutting edge’ of theater,” Brier noted. “A totally new form was developing before our eyes.” All the rehearsals had to take place on Zoom, and most of the time the cast, directors, and playwrights were never together.
When he began the Shelter Plays Project, Brier’s objective was to collect short plays, join them together, and create an evening of live on stage entertainment. “That may still happen someday. I hope so,” he said. “But for now, as beautifully expressed by Nashville playwright and songwriter Judy Klass in her song “Show”: “The void is so hard to define, but the show must go on… online. ”