“Beauty as currency. Or a weapon.” Whatcha Doin? – part of Theatre NOVA’s new “Play of the Month” series

“Who’s zoomin’ who?” Detroit great Aretha Franklin once queried in song. Little did we know how prescient that sassy lyric would be some 30 years later. Here we all remain in our homes waiting for the cloud of pandemic to hopefully/eventually pass, anxious not only for our health and safety but for the chaotically mercurial state of a society that spins off its axis on a daily basis. How do we remain connected? Will human contact be forever limited to misleading social media messages and Zoom-enabled video jail cells? Only time will tell.

This existential dread hovers atop playwright Jacquelyn Priskorn’s incisive two-hander Whatcha Doin? The play is delivered via, yes, the ubiquitous Zoom, but makes effective use of the surreally detached intimacy that the platform provides.

From Theatre NOVA’s press release: “In Whatcha Doin?, a film student interviews a former child star turned voice over actor for a documentary project. Thrilled to witness Marnie’s work-from-home recording studio in action, Raven is surprised to learn about the difficulties Marnie had while portraying the goofy, unattractive kid on a TV series, but even more so, Raven is curious about why Marnie is now unable to leave her home. Whatcha Doin? is directed by Theatre NOVA Producing Artistic Director, Diane Hill and features Kate Stark and Megan Wesner.”

Stark and Wesner are compelling presences, defying the inherent limitations of webinar acting, with bright and engaging but wholly natural styles. Given Zoom’s challenges, the performer has to “pop” beyond a gauzy digital haze … but not *too* much. Not quite film, not quite stage, effective characterization has to break through the uncanny valley, remaining humanistic, yet not becoming flat. Stark and Wesner both excel, building a dynamic relationship in a brisk 20 minutes that is compelling, believable, poignant, and deeply affecting. To capture the ephemeral spark of unfolding friendship is tricky business on stage or screen, so it is a rare, almost voyeuristic thrill to watch Stark and Wesner’s nuanced work here.

With Hill’s expert direction, there is a beautiful embrace of the awkwardness inherent in online conversations. I haven’t really seen anybody capture as well the strange dance of smiles and pauses and sidelong glances that Zoom inspires. They nail it here. The script which is deceptively clever addresses the fluidity of identity in this modern age, supercharged as that can be across the bits and bytes of a computer screen.

Whether we realize it or not, we all are engaged in a minute-by-minute act of reclaiming, shaping, and reimagining who we are across digital platforms and IRL. This pas de deux of identity and belonging is deftly depicted in both script and production without hitting the viewer over the head. Highly recommend.

Tickets are $10 each month, or $30 for a Series Pass which admits ticket holders to a new play each month, January through April, 2021. Purchase tickets online at www.TheatreNova.org. For more information, please email a2theatrenova@gmail.com. All proceeds benefit Theatre NOVA’s ongoing efforts to stay alive through the pandemic.

Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents its new PLAY OF THE MONTH Zoom Play Series, featuring new plays written specifically for the Zoom format each month.

Due to the success of their Zoom Play Series Festival that ran in October, 2020, and in keeping with their mission to raise awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and playwrights, Theatre NOVA will present a new short play (20-40 minutes long) each month, January through April, 2021. The series opens with Whatcha Doin? by Jacquelyn Priskorn, performed live on Wednesday, January 27th at 8:00pm and available on video for the month of February.

Jacquelyn Priskorn (Playwright) has been writing plays since she took her first class with playwright Kitty Dubin in 1997. She has had several plays and screenplays produced since that first class, including the award-winning short film, “The Guest Room” (shown at the Strasbourg Film Festival in France), as well as a screenplay, “Love & Plutonium,” which is currently available on DVD. Her play “Love Shackles” was published in “Quick & Painless: Saturday Night Lites 2004-2005 Season” distributed by Original Works. “Glass Slipper, Size 8 ½,” “The Rot,” “The Reckless Romantic” and “Off Center” (Best Play at the Oakland University Actor Showcase) are currently available through Brooklyn Publishing. “Good Morning, Miriam” received the Jury’s Choice Award at the Detroit Fringe Forward Festival, along with Best New Play from New Plays from the Heartland, and The Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 17th annual one act play contest.

Diane Hill (Director) is a Producing Artistic Director at Theatre NOVA and was founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Two Muses Theatre, a nonprofit, professional theatre in West Bloomfield. Diane was a professor at University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland Community College, where she originated and designed the Theatre degree program. She has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of Michigan. At Theatre NOVA, she directed “Clutter,” “Follies in Concert” and “Kill Move Paradise” (Council Cargle Award for Excellence in Diverse Storytelling).” Theatre NOVA audiences saw her play Olympe de Gouges in “The Revolutionists” (Wilde Award Best Production), Penelope Easter in “The Totalitarians,” Zelda in “The How and the Why” (Wilde Award Best Actress), and Sherri in “Admissions.”

Kate Stark (Marnie) is a dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, and voice over artist based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. She holds BAs in Biological Anthropology and Broadcast Journalism from Miami University and in a previous life was a TV news producer. Kate performs and teaches with companies like Cincinnati Ballet, Carnegie Center for the Performing Arts, Cincinnati Landmark Productions, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, The Know Theatre, Dancing with Parkinson’s, InBocca Performance, and Pones Inc. Favorite roles: Judy Turner (“A Chorus Line”), Jean MacLaren (“Brigadoon”), Phyllis Dale (“42nd Street”), Nellie (“Nellie Bly: A Menace to Propriety”), and Texas (“Cabaret”).

Megan Wesner (Raven) is excited to be working with Theatre NOVA for the first time. They have previously worked as an actor, director, scenic painter, and stagehand for various Michigan theaters including the Wharton Center, Wild Swan Theatre Company, All-of-Us Express, the Purple Rose Theatre Company, and Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. Megan graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Arts & Humanities and Theatre. They currently reside in Chelsea, Michigan.

Speaking of Zoom …

Enjoy this video of today’s “Epic CRM Fails” webinar panel with yours truly – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KUh4OsOopIQ&feature=youtu.be

“How are law firms using CRM and other marketing and business development software increasing the ROI on these technology investments? Christopher Raymond of Intapp, Chris Fritsch, JD of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, and Roy Sexton (ME!) of Clark Hill Law share real-life stories of how they overcame these obstacles.”

Thank you to Rob Kates of Kates Media: Video Production for the video support and to Martha Lord and Sarah Goldfuss for their assistance throughout.

6 thoughts on ““Beauty as currency. Or a weapon.” Whatcha Doin? – part of Theatre NOVA’s new “Play of the Month” series

      • right! i’m just about to watch my grandson’s 7th grade band concert spliced together for a zoom – this should be interesting! p.s. i am the only one who loves to go to school concerts. i love all of the awkwardness, the outfits, the drama, the cuteness, the missteps, everything about them. my daughter said people should hire me to go to their kid’s school shows. maybe i’ll blog about it. )

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