Playwrights, actors to converge for performance livestream

An Ithaca theater company is creating a livestreamed performance of a new work from six international playwrights, one of them a Cornell professor.

“Felt Sad, Posted a Frog (and Other Streams of Global Quarantine),” a production of the Cherry Artists’ Collective in Ithaca, will premiere May 1. The collection of plays is directed by Samuel Buggeln, artistic director of the collective, and Beth F. Milles, associate professor of performing and media arts in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 1-2 and May 7-8, and 2:30 p.m. May 9 (all times EDT). Sliding scale tickets start at $15 and can be purchased here; attendees will be notified approximately one hour before the performance by email with the exclusive link to the livestream.

The plays share stories of people’s lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have this ensemble of artists who live in Ithaca and this international ensemble of playwrights, and we also have this history of using innovative forms and technology,” Buggeln said of the Cherry Artists’ Collective, formed in 2014. “We thought we could make something happen that could be really special.”

In March, Buggeln emailed playwrights all over the world, whom he’d met through plays the collective has produced. A Cornell program, “World Theatre Voices,” helps fund visits from those playwrights so they can work with faculty and students. Many were happy to take part in this collective work, as they were already writing about their experiences of living through the pandemic.

Buggeln gave them two weeks to write the first draft of a short play.

“This is about the anxiety of this time and the heart of being an artist right now,” Milles said. “What’s so special is that this local community of artists and this global community of playwrights are all experiencing the same tension – of either wanting to sit at home and pull the covers up over our heads, or wanting to make the best work ever.”

Playwrights for “Felt Sad, Posted a Frog” include:

  • Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, associate professor of English;
  • Iva Brdar, from Belgrade, Serbia;
  • Jorgelina Cerritos, from  San Salvador, El Salvador;
  • Rebekka Kricheldorf, from Berlin, Germany;
  • Santiago Loza, from Buenos Aires, Argentina; and
  • Saviana Stanescu, from Bucharest, Romania, and an associate professor of theater at Ithaca College.

The six plays will be woven together into one performance. They run the gamut of emotions, Buggeln said – from comedic takes of life in quarantine to the full-blown mortal terror of the virus. A common theme, coincidentally, is animals. “Practically every play has a major animal component,” Buggeln said.

Van Clief-Stefanon’s play tells the story of three female friends communicating only through their screens. They find humor and common ground in shared animal memes and videos.

“I am trying to document my days because each day feels strangely like a time jump,” she said of her response to the pandemic. “I’m not a tech person, but my closest friends are in cities or have fled cities, and we are video messaging each other. Now, (these tech tools) are our lifeline.”

Milles and Buggeln chose actors from the local collective for each play, and rehearsals have begun online. The actual performances will take place from each actor’s home and will be shared with the audience through a platform still to be determined.

This directing process presents a set of “beautiful” challenges, Milles said.

“The screen offers the potential to deepen the engagement,” she said, “yet we are still able to explore the words, rhythm and silence, as we would in a theater.”

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Abby Butler