“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.

“Incoming!” Open Book Theatre’s “Home Less”

Theatre in pandemic requires ingenuity, creativity, and miles and miles and miles of heart. Oh, and a good internet connection. Michigan’s Open Book Theatre Company is killing it.

Artistic Director Krista Schafer Ewbank has created an outlet for talented artists across the country and particularly here in Michigan to offer what could be best described as bespoke theatrical offerings. Whether it’s a musical staged at a drive-in, behind a picture window or in someone’s driveway or a ten minute, one person play delivered one-on-one (actor to audience), the company has kept theatre alive in these dark times with magnificent results. (I reviewed their production of iPoppy in October.)

Their latest offering is Emily Rosenbaum’s Home Less – as described on the Open Book website: “On her child’s eleventh birthday, a mom reflects on bravery, helping, and the Hogwarts sorting hat.” The conceit of the show is that the mother in question (local legend and, yes, my friend Carrie Jay Sayer) is recording on video a message that her son will read fourteen years hence on his twenty-fifth birthday.

The mother’s message is funny, heartfelt, often poignant, reflective of the unifying isolation of 2020 and the sense of helplessness throughout. The joy of celebrating her bright and adventurous child on his birthday is overshadowed by her guilt that she hasn’t been fully present for him, consumed as she is by the Sisyphean task of her day job: finding warm shelter for the ever growing numbers of homeless people.

The playwright offers in her notes on the piece: “But there’s no such thing as a homeless person. There are people who are experiencing homelessness, just as there are people experiencing food insecurity, domestic violence, and poverty. All of these traumas are human rights violations; none of them are characteristics of people. The systems that perpetuate these violences upon people are complex and deeply rooted. They are, in fact, our economic, educational, governmental, healthcare, and food systems. They serve some people well and are designed to keep others oppressed. … All sorts of circumstances can lead to homelessness, but there is only one remedy. A home.”

Sayer turns in a master class of nuanced understatement, with crisply drawn emotion and empathy, framing herself carefully in the Zoom-based “stage.” She is aided and abetted by Angie Kane’s steady, no frills direction, maintaining focus on words, message, and face. Sayer is a compelling presence, transcending the inherent limits of technology to connect with her singular audience member. We as viewer take the place of the birthday boy, with Sayer delivering her deepest thoughts and fears directly to us. The effect is as haunting as it is relatable. Sayer paces her delivery with varying rhythms and levels, taking us through the highs and lows of a mother grappling with widescreen societal issues and small screen personal ones. This is an exceptional performance, not to be missed. Instructive, cathartic, essential.

Remaining performances are available on January 18th, 21st, and 25th and can be scheduled here. Tickets are $20.

Carrie Jay Sayer

#EpicCRMFails Webinar Series

Part 2: Epic Fails – and How to Avoid Them

Join me for a panel discussion on January 27, 11:30 AM EST! Register here.

Almost every law firm currently using CRM and other marketing and business development software is looking for ways to increase the ROI on these technology investments. In the pursuit of success with technology, sometimes learning what NOT to do from people who have dealt with challenges can be more instructive than hypothetical discussions about what you could or should do. 

Join us January 27 at 11:30 AM EST for part two of this four-part series examining some the top issues that can lead to “Epic CRM Fails.” You will hear from experienced marketing and business development professionals who will share real-life stories of how they overcame these obstacles. You’ll also see never-before-released videos that capture the frustration of failure – and get actionable ideas and best practices to succeed.

Here are just a few of the #EpicCRMFails “potholes” you will learn to avoid on the road to CRM Success:

  • Problems First, Products Second – Identify your needs and requirements first before attempting to evaluate software.
  • Let Lawyers Be Lawyers – Perhaps professionals who bill hundreds (or more) of dollars an hour shouldn’t be tasked with data entry. Minimizing their efforts by automating processes can maximize value – and adoption.
  • No Dog and Pony Shows – Don’t get distracted by shiny bells and whistles. Instead choose the features and functionality that match your needs and requirements.
  • Defeat the Deluge of Data – Don’t drown in dated data. Instead focus on getting information you need to succeed, keep it clean and turn it into actionable insights.

We hope you’ll join us for this fun and interactive discussion. We will also be accepting “fails” from the audience and awarding prizes for submissions.

Register here!

About the speakers

Chris Fritsch, J.D., CLIENTSFirst Consulting

Chris Fritsch, CRM Success Consultant and founder of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, has helped hundreds of law firms select and implement the right Client Relationship Management and eMarketing solutions to support their marketing and business development efforts and maximize return on investment. Her team of almost 100 data quality professionals helps firms clean and enhance data and maintain ongoing quality. A recognized authority on marketing and business development technologies, Chris writes and speaks nationally on topics including CRM, eMarketing and data quality. She was named among the top 10 Marketing and Business Development thought leaders in the JD Supra Readers’ Choice Awards. She was also inducted as Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management for her consulting contributions to the profession. Chris received her law degree from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, GA.

Christopher Raymond, Intapp

Chris Raymond, Practice Group Leader, Marketing and Business Development at Intapp, has spent nearly 15 years in the legal industry, working with Knowledge Management, Marketing and Business Development teams of AmLaw200 firms across the country. He is  Chair of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Northeast MarTech SIG. 

Chris joined the Intapp team as part of the OnePlace acquisition and previously worked at LexisNexis.

Roy Sexton, Clark Hill

As Director of Marketing, Roy Sexton helps lead Clark Hill’s marketing, branding and communications efforts. Sexton has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, business development and strategic planning. He has been heavily involved in the LMA as a regional and international leader and serves on numerous nonprofit boards and committees, including the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, Royal Starr Film Festival, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit and encoremichigan.com. Sexton earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wabash College, and holds Master’s degrees from The Ohio State University (M.A., Theatre) and the University of Michigan (MBA). He is a published author with two books, “Reel Roy Reviews,” Volumes 1 and 2, taken from his blog of the same name www.reelroyreviews.com.

Special thanks to Rob Kates, Kates Media

KM TV 2020