With the early end of Kenyon’s spring semester on campus, many students slotted to perform in productions this semester could not reap the benefits of their hard work. Seniors who were directing or acting in their final performances were denied their finale. While classes can be taken online, the experience of theater is unfit for the screen. Especially that of a computer. Kenyon drama students have had to reconcile with being unable to act on stage during this period, and have struggled to find an alternative. That is, until Kenyon’s Playwrights’ Workshop’s staging of The 24 Hour Plays.
Garnering almost 15,000 followers on Instagram, The 24 Hour Plays have featured performances from many well-known actors, such as AnnaSophia Robb, Nat Wolff, Tony Shalhoub, Ethan Hawk and many more. Jane Lindstrom ’21, an alumna of The 24 Hour Plays: Nationals program and member of Kenyon’s Playwrights’ Workshop, wrote in an email to the Collegian, “The 24 Hour Plays is an incredible theatre organization based in New York that brings communities together around the world to produce plays and musicals written and performed in the span of 24 hours.” Once COVID-19 began to take its toll on the United States, The 24 Hour Plays took form online as the Viral Monologues.
Lindstrom noticed a post about the Viral Monologues from The 24 Hour Plays social media. “Jane brought the idea to the rest of the board, and we thought it was a great idea, and a great thing for Playwrights’ Workshop to put on.” Ellie Melick ’21, a member of the Playwrights’ Workshop, wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Our [organization] is dedicated to producing student-written work, so a performance of original monologues is right up our alley, even outside of a global pandemic.” The 24 Hour Plays® Viral Monologues: Kenyon is presented under a license from The 24 Hour Plays®.
Multiple emails were sent out to all current Kenyon students and faculty inviting them to participate in the monologues. “We did not turn anyone away from the project, so everyone who wanted to be a part of it was involved in the final product,” Lindstrom wrote. Each actor was first paired with the playwright. Each monologue was then written and filmed in the span of 24 hours, after which all of the videos were uploaded to Instagram over the course of an hour.
As co-producers of The 24 Hour Plays Viral Monologues: Kenyon, Katie Stevenson ’21, Sarah Groustra ’22, Teddy Fischer ’22, Lindstrom and Melick all handled the logistics of the event. Stevenson is also the executive director of the Playwrights’ Workshop.
“This involved outreach, creating actor/writer pairs, distributing online materials to participants, editing the videos you saw on Instagram, and generally making sure everything was running smoothly,” Groustra wrote to the Collegian. All four of the co-producers also wrote monologues of their own, and acted in other people’s pieces.
According to Lindstrom, all of the producers knew those involved, which simplified the pairing process. “We tried to match writers and actors based on personality and style, or just who we thought would work well together. We also tried to build pairings that hadn’t necessarily worked together a ton in the past.” The collaboration between the writer and the actor is evident in all 19 of the videos, for each actor has the props mentioned in the script, and each video takes place in the scene’s indicated/written setting. These essential components were greatly limited as a result of the pandemic, and performances taking place in the actors’ homes.
Excitement brewed over the release of these videos, and those in on the project posted on social media about the upcoming Viral Monologues’s April 18 release. When that day arrived, people flocked to the Playwrights’ Workshop Instagram page to watch as each video was uploaded. “I couldn’t stop refreshing my feed all day!” Wickham Bermingham ’23, a drama major, wrote in an email to the Collegian, “it was so fun to see how different people collaborated on their projects.”
“I was really amazed by how much support the monologues received once we started posting them. As soon as the first video went up, people were commenting really sweet things and sharing their friends’ work,” Groustra wrote. People left positive comments such as “AMAZING,” “Killed it!!!” and “Incredible” on the posts.
The viewers came from every walk of Kenyon life, just like the participants. “We had faculty, staff, alumni, drama majors, non-drama majors and all four class years represented in the group of writers and actors. It felt pretty magical, bringing the community together in this non-conventional digital form,” Lindstrom said.
COVID-19 made it easy to believe that all hope was lost for the theater community. With the temporary shutdown of Broadway, it was difficult to imagine any kind of alternative. At least with the Viral Monologues, actors and writers can work together without creating a full-blown T.V. show or movie. Lindstrom commented, “Nothing can replace live theatre, but what something like the Viral Monologues can do is recreate the collaborative spirit of putting on a play, and at least make us feel a bit more connected to each other again.”
Despite the Viral Monologues’ hit, the producers aren’t planning on licensing another round. All of the monologues are available both on YouTube and Instagram (@playwrightsworkshop), and can be viewed at any time. In any case, the project has opened a door to a variety of new opportunities for theater at a distance. The Playwrights’ Workshop will continue to produce virtual content for the future so that theater can, in some form, live on.