Why Making Digital Theater Is Like Shooting ‘Star Wars’

Gordon Cox
·3-min read

Think producing digital play readings is as simple as getting a few actors together on Zoom? Think again.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

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For the starry Spotlight on Plays series, each actor is filmed using their own phone and then edited into a seamless whole. The bigger the cast, the more “cameras” involved — and one recent Spotlight on Plays show, “The Best Man” with Morgan Freeman, had a cast of 18. “That’s 18 cameras!” said Jim Glaub, one of the producers of Spotlight on Plays. “That’s ‘Star Wars’! Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just a Zoom thing.’ No no no!”

Glaub appeared on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, with Lileana Blain-Cruz, the director of Spotlight on Play’s upcoming reading of “The Baltimore Waltz.” Mary-Louise Parker, Eric McCormack and Brandon Burton star in Paula Vogel’s tragi-comedy about two siblings grappling with illness during their film-noir inflected travels. Blain-Cruz said that although the show was written in 1992, it has plenty of timely relevance today.

“It’s one of those remarkable plays that you’ve heard about a lot but you’ve never gotten the chance to see or hear,” said the director, whose recent Off Broadway work has included “Marys Seacole” and “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.” “We get to experience this tremendous journey through what it means to be alive in the midst of illness, in the midst of a country that hasn’t recognized the devastation of that, and then think about that in relation to what we’ve been through with COVID.”

Blain-Cruz and Glaub also discussed working to give their “Baltimore Waltz” enough visual interest to combat Zoom fatigue, and talked about all the ways digital theater might persist even after the pandemic. Both got exited about the form nurturing new audiences and new voices: “[Maybe] the whole thing can give access to new directors and new playwrights and new stories … It’s a whole new vertical for doing that,” Glaub said.

Blain-Cruz added that the digital format might help people see theater in a new light. “I have a real desire to make theater cool again for people who don’t get to see theater, and have this idea that theater is this weird, strange little thing that New Yorkers do in this random little place,” she said. “It’s not true! It’s amazing and inspiring!”

Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Blain-Cruz and Glaub revealed some of the unexpected hurdles they encountered during the production of digital theater — including a hurricane, a failing battery and Sally Field’s tropical birds.

To hear to the full conversation, listen at the link above, or download and subscribe to Stagecraft on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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