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Arts & Culture

A New Type Of Theater Logs On With Moxie's Zoom Play Festival

The founders of Moxie Theatre are pictured in an undated photograph.
Ash & Arrow Photography
The founders of Moxie Theatre are pictured in an undated photograph.

Embracing our new connectivity with a festival of original plays written for, set in and performed in Zoom

Ordinarily, it would be a cute name. "ZoomFest." But in the barely two weeks since Moxie Theatre — like most everywhere else — went dark, the word zoom has new meaning. Zoom is the teleconferencing software almost everyone is talking about in this sudden new world of online learning, working from home and even conference calling grandma or remote-hanging out with your buddies, and it isn't even all that novel. Before we Zoomed we Skyped or FaceTimed or even just "video called" but there's something unmistakably 2020 COVID-esque about Zoom.

Whether you love the platform or hate it, it's also how many artists, troupes, bands, orchestral groups and more are finding ways to continue creating and sharing art — whether for rehearsals or crisis planning sessions, or to actually broadcast their work for the digital masses to see. And with video conferencing being our glimmer of hope for connection in this weird, unmatched time of hyper-connected isolation, it's probably about time somebody wrote some plays about it.

Enter Moxie. Beginning this weekend, the creative team behind Moxie Theatre will present short original plays specifically written for, set in, rehearsed in, performed in and viewed in Zoom. It's site-specific theater when the "site" is actually the literal lack of a site.

"Safe Distance," written by Moxie's executive artistic director and cofounder Jennifer Eve Thorn, kicks off the festival. "It's a Zoom conference for a fictional pressed juice company. They're having their staff check-in meeting that they've now scheduled to happen weekly," said Thorn, fittingly over a Zoom call. "This is a way of embracing the current challenge that we have."

Moxie Theatre's executive artistic director Jennifer Eve Thorn during a Zoom interview in March 2020.
Julia Dixon Evans
Moxie Theatre's executive artistic director Jennifer Eve Thorn during a Zoom interview in March 2020.

Thorn thinks the structure of the festival — quarantine-related stories set in Zoom and performed in Zoom — has a lot of material, particularly for women.

"Moxie's staff is all female, and most of us have children, and most of us are now still holding our positions and most of us are now also homeschooling," said Thorn. "There's this assumption in the school system that there is a parent at home and that parent can be the teacher." The opening line of her play features a mother beginning the video conference by telling her kids, off-screen, that she'll be there in a minute.

The festival, which will open to submissions after the pair of kick-off performances this weekend, is open to plays of up to 20 pages by women-identifying playwrights. Selected pieces will be performed by professional actors in the Moxie family, and the playwright will be paid 10% of the proceeds from their script.

Moxie's next live-audience, on-stage play, "Shiv," has been pushed back, with a new opening date of late May — which means rehearsals might also have to begin on Zoom, too. With reopen dates uncertain, productions can only be postponed so much until they bump into the next production. Thorn said that financially, it might have been safer to cancel "Shiv," rather than push it back, because given how small their company and theater is, each show doesn't bring in a lot of money.

"But it is the oldest motto in theater that the show must go on. There's something in our DNA that just refuses to stop making theater. We'll keep postponing and postponing and rehearsing and planning," she said. "Theaters will be back the second they let us be back. We won't just be starting rehearsals. Most of us will probably be ready to open that show. The second you let me have an audience, I wanna have a show ready."

Until then, join in on ZoomFest, which kicks off with "Safe Distance," starring Andréa Agosto, Jill Drexler, Timothy L. Cabal and Matthew Salzar-Thompson, Friday at 8 p.m. with a second performance on Saturday at 2 p.m. Viewers are encouraged to RSVP to the box office and make a suggested donation of $5 for each performance.