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Pandemic, protests inspire LI playwrights and actors

Deborah Rupy and her husband, Christopher Rupy, of

Deborah Rupy and her husband, Christopher Rupy, of Hicksville put together the "L.I. Pause Monologues." Credit: Christopher Rupy

With Long Island theaters still remaining dark, local directors, playwrights and actors have found ways to create art and bring it alive on a virtual stage. 

The results range from a series of monologues inspired by the coronavirus, to original plays broadcast on YouTube, to a new work about one family’s experience coping with the pandemic, and more.   

'THE L.I. PAUSE MONOLOGUES'

Developing original works has always been a mission for Deborah Rupy, who runs One House Productions in Hicksville. When the pandemic hit, she asked local playwrights to create two- to six-minute monologues about being in quarantine.

After receiving approximately 25 submissions, she paired up writers with actors, who filmed themselves performing from their kitchens, their cars and even in bed.

“We’ve had some very dramatic, very serious monologues,” she said. “And we’ve had some slice of life, very funny ones." One dealt with writer's block and the pressure to come out of quarantine having created "something great."

Her husband, Christopher Rupy, edited all of them into the one hour, 14 minute "L.I. Pause Monologues," which can be seen on their One House Productions YouTube channel.

“We were able to join people together who never even knew the other person existed, never worked together or considered working together,” she said. “The theater community is larger than we thought we were.”

Rupy said she’s collecting submissions for a second installment. “This is just the beginning,” she said. “It was healing for us to come together.”

THEATRE THREE GOES VIRTUAL

When the pandemic shut down Port Jefferson's Theatre Three in March, executive artistic director Jeffrey Sanzel decided that one way or another, the show must go on.

A call for original plays "of short length to be produced on Zoom,” resulted in nearly 400 responses, Sanzel said. So far, 12 have been presented in the series "Theatre Three Off-stage/On-line" on the theater's YouTube channel. Like Rupy, Sanzel has seen plays spanning a wide range of emotion with many writers inspired by their current circumstances.

“A lot has been written about COVID, about isolation and trying to connect with friends and family, both from a humorous standpoint and a serious standpoint,” he said. An example is “Tiffany Is a Medieval Name,” a comedy by Sarah Rae Brown about two vampires in quarantine.

Each playlet must have a complete arc that can be accomplished in 10 minutes. “They [also] have to allow it for people to basically be seen from the waist up,” Sanzel said. “You can’t have a lot of movement necessarily. We have used virtual backgrounds, but it has to be something that can be produced pretty simply and tends to be dialogue-driven.”

STAYING RELEVANT

Writer-director-actor Ian Ellis James asked himself an important question when the pandemic hit.

“As an artist, how do you stay relevant?” said James, known creatively as William Electric Black, who grew up in Oyster Bay and Westbury, and now lives in Manhattan.

James presented two one-act plays on Zoom, but his main focus is “The Sickness,” a new drama he's writing about a low-income black family navigating the pandemic together. The matriarch is a nurse battling coronavirus on the front line, while the father runs a restaurant and distributes food to his community. James, whose mother is in a nursing home with visitation restrictions, drew on his own experience.

“Of course, the sickness is not only about the pandemic, but it’s about the sickness in racial disparities they've been facing, the housing where they live, health disparities, a lot of issues that I roll up into my plays, anyway.”

James previously wrote a series of plays about gun violence. “All of these things are issues I’ve been writing about before the pandemic, but they’ve been heightened so much.”

He was halfway through “The Sickness” when George Floyd died in Minneapolis, sparking protests across the world. “It became my act break,” James said. “For me it was natural to have that in the play because it heightens the story; it elevated the stakes.”

The second half will shift to characters protesting and interacting with the police.

Like many artists, James isn’t sure how theaters will look and function post-quarantine. But he does know one thing for sure about the vision of his play. 

“Zoom is one thing; it’s great but definitely not the same,” he said. “To me, this would be a live theater piece. Within a year or so.”

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