Prism Movement Theater launches devised drive-in production 'Everything Will Be Fine'
by Cristee Cook
Prism Movement Theater’s new production, Everything Will Be Fine, is an innovative drive-in theatre experience created in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In collaboration with the Latino Cultural Center, the story follows a woman learning how to deal with a new world after experiencing an unthinkable loss. The performance will utilize the performers’ cars to create all of the technical requirements and the sound and music will be broadcast through the audiences’ car radios.
Dallas Art Beat had the opportunity to talk with Playwright Zoe Kerr and Co-Director and Choreographer Kwame Lilly about the joys and challenges of launching a live performance during a pandemic, the driving force behind producing nonverbal performance, and how the quarantine and social distancing has changed their work.
I’m so intrigued by this concept, and I’d love to hear some of what the audience can expect.
ZK: We’re formatting it like a drive- in theater. Our chief concern is for the audience to feel safe, but to also feel compelled to get creative with their own audienceship. If they feel compelled to flash their headlights at any point in the show, we welcome that. If they want to knock on the top of their cars, you know, in celebration or as a form of clapping, we welcome that as well. We really are picturing this as a very malleable thing that that evolves with every single show. The only limitation is you can't get out of your car.
KL: Well, from a director standpoint, we just have to figure out what is the language that we can safely do at a distance that still reads. And what is the character relationship and how do we get that across to the audience, which has been tricky at times. But we’re finding enough universal language to tell the story.
I understand that the story centers around grief and loss. Can you share some background about the play?
ZK: Initially, we were going to go in a much different direction, but, at that point it was the all-time high record COVID cases in Texas, which has steadily risen, unfortunately; so we decided to make it more relevant to what people are worrying about today. We were talking a lot about what it's like living with COVID-19 kind of lurking around every corner, especially if you don't know anyone personally that's been affected. It feels like this invisible enemy that you're not quite sure how to fight. I was really curious how it feels to grieve someone that you can't physically be near as they move on. And because PRISM likes to play a lot with structure, I began to wonder what a show would look like if each vignette dealt with a different stage of grief. So that's the structure for the show.
KL: I think this is the genius part about it. We all know what denial is and what anger is, or bargaining – when you think about those stages of grief, even though we know generally what that is, we all have different perspectives of how those will play out. I think this play, and this show, does a good job of showing all the different perspectives of grief and how each of us handle it differently.
What inspires you about creating nonverbal theatre?
ZK: We believe as a company that going nonverbal is more accessible to a lot of people. We've had deaf audience members say, this is the first play I've been able to enjoy. We've had audience members that don't speak a word of English that still enjoy our shows. We just really believe in accessibility and diversity and the idea that just because theater is this kind of model with, you know, culture and was originally made for very privileged people, we don't think it has to stay that way. And we think that it's our duty as artists to make it as accessible as possible for everyone.
KL: Movement theater has always been close to me. Sometimes, you just want an action. So, when you get into the storytelling mode of things, I feel like without words, you really get a direct line of what is the language. You really have to rely on the way that it can physically convey that emotion, and to do it without even having to think about what it means.
How has working within the confines of COVID-19 changed the process for you or how has it changed your work?
ZK: It’s forced us to be a lot more creative. Especially me. A lot of my work, I hadn't realized how tactile my work is and how much I ask actors to touch each other and get close to each other. And we can't really do that right now. It's forced me as a writer to get out of that comfort zone. But more than that, it's just taught me that if an artist wants to create, they will.
KL: Well, it's been a new thing. Most performers are all about connection. Everything we do is in close proximity. So, when rehearsals started, we did half of the work on Google hangouts. Now that we’re in person doing rehearsals, we have to be adherent to those rules. I have the task of staging an entire show where there should be intimate moments, but there’s only one couple in the cast that's allowed to touch. They've been quarantining together, but nobody else can touch. You really do have to rely on the way that it can physically convey that emotion. With masks, we’ve taken away half of our facial expressions, and the body compensates for that. Without words and limited physical contact, you really get to a direct line of what it is that you’re trying to express.
Everything Will Be Fine by Zoe Kerr and Co-Directed by Jeffrey Colangelo and Kwame Lilly, will be showing June 26th-27th at 8pm and July 10th-11th at 8pm, in the Latino Cultural Center parking lot: 2600 Live Oak St, Dallas, TX.
For tickets, visit the event page on Eventbrite.
Numerous safety measures are in place, including masks for all ushers, cast, and crew members. For contactless check-in, reserve tickets in advance. For more information about Prism Movement Theatre visit https://www.prismco.org/everything-will-be-fine/