Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – If there’s a lesson to take from 2020, it’s that choices have consequences. Even formerly minor decisions such as going to a restaurant, when to buy groceries and visiting a few relatives all have significant health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Going to a play would certainly rank high on that list, which is why Quantum Theatre’s “Constellations,” a show aptly about how small changes can make a big impact, is going all digital.
The play by Nick Payne focuses on a married couple, beekeeper Roland and quantum physicist Marianne, and the exploration of love and parallel universes based on the decisions they make. For this performance, three real-life couples will play the roles of Roland and Marianne on a live online broadcast directly from the actors’ homes, adding another dimension of intimacy and immediacy.
Quantum artistic director Karla Boos said the idea for a live broadcast performance was inspired by their livestreamed production of Caryl Churchill’s micro-drama marathon “Love and Information” earlier this summer.
“We found, with ‘Love and Information,’ it was interesting to go into the actors’ homes if the subject matter is about a couple in locations that can be as simple as a front porch or as interesting as the bedroom,” she said. “There’s a voyeuristic element to it because these are these folks’ real homes, quite different one from the next.”
In “Constellations,” couples Julianne Avolio and John Michnya, Daina Griffith and Daniel Krell, and Marva Parker and Rico Romalus Parker will also serve as the camera crew, an added challenge.
“We’re learning as we go along,” Boos said. “These are actors who are setting up their cameras themselves without a stage manager. They’re tethered to the camera via a microphone that has a cord. It’s really asking a lot of people.”
Quantum’s director of production Hank Bullington will control transitions behind the scenes with cues from stage managers, not unlike live television shows. While another couple is on screen, the others frantically transport equipment to new locations in their houses, sometimes changing costumes and getting in place for the next scene.
Griffith and Krell described the process as a “mad dash.”
“OK, I have to go from the upstairs bedroom to the basement office,” she explained. “And you have a minute and a half to get there, change costumes and change the lighting and do a scene like none of that happened. It’s a definite challenge.”
Griffith has never actually met the Parkers, who live in Dayton, Ohio.
“Even though we’re not in the same space with the director, stage manager and Karla, there is this feeling of community that is really nice,” she said. “Having this to look forward to each day has given us something to focus on. It’s given us something creative to do, a welcome outlet.”
As they play the same roles, the couples were encouraged to find elements from each performance to incorporate in their own scenes.
“Our director, Sam Turich, said because you are playing the same characters, feel free to go ahead and even copy things you see someone else do,” Krell said. “If you want to pick up on something they do, a line reading, a mannerism, that will be beneficial to the piece.”
Griffin has done a few other broadcast productions during the pandemic.
“People are in their homes, quarantining, missing the theater and missing live performances,” she said. “It’s not just people staring into a computer doing a Zoom reading. It’s actually watching scenes, and it has been a nice surprise that people tune in and want to see it.”
Boos explained “Constellations” will be split into two halves, with Part One beginning live at 8 p.m. Thursday. The following day will show an encore recording of Part One at 7:15 p.m. immediately before the live broadcast of Part Two. The process begins again with Part One at 8 p.m. on Saturday and an encore of Part One at 7:15 p.m. on Sunday followed by the live Part Two. The show is free (donations are accepted) but you must register to view it at quantumtheatre.com.
Recordings of the show will be available to registrants to view anytime after the live airings until 9 p.m. Sunday.
Boos acknowledged that as in-person performances return, Quantum’s wide-ranging, often outdoor stagings will help them transition. But she also said that the creative constraints of the pandemic may lead to future livestreams for those who can’t attend or are apprehensive about being near fellow audience members.
To that end, Quantum has also announced live broadcast performances of “Wild” by Mike Bartlett (Oct. 8-12) and another Churchill work, “Far Away” (dates TBA). With “Wild,” the audience will be able to choose from different camera angles for multiple perspectives.
“Maybe there is something that’s going to last from this time,” Boos said. “Maybe we’ll get really inspired with things you can do, but they’re not quite film and not quite theater, but some hybrid of the two. I don’t think we will ever give up our aggressive approach to live experience. That’s where we excel.”
Griffith hoped playwrights would create new works to fit this difficult time.
“I hope these types of readings continue online as long as we need them, but I also hope we can look back on this time and gather in a place and watch it take place on stage,” she said.
“Constellations” seems a fitting commentary on the pandemic’s domestic constraints.
“The fragility of love and partnership, how tomorrow might look different from today, and how to find reasons to laugh — I think those are the things the play gives us,” Boos said. “What could be more appropriate?”