As the pandemic drags on, artists and theatergoers alike are adapting to seeing works of theater produced for their computer screens instead of live audiences. And Roger Collins is in the thick of it.
The O’Bryonville resident’s latest play Trading Places premieres this week as part of Gallery Players’ 24th annual Black Box New Play Festival in Brooklyn. It’s the tale of a father and his teenage daughter, separated in cyberspace, debating the merits of bringing a loved one back from the dead. The father prevails and the pair perform an incantation and resurrect the family matriarch but will she join them in the living world or will they join her in the afterlife?
“Trading Places is a ghost story,” says Collins, a former professor at the University of Cincinnati. “When I began thinking about my ghost story, I knew it would reflect how, in the world of the supernatural, the best laid plans of mortals can go awry.”
He says his personal source for the supernatural was his Trinidadian maternal grandmother. She and his grandfather migrated from Trinidad in 1919, and she brought that country’s folklore with her.
“She blessed her four grandchildren privately with the notion that we each were paranormally ‘lucky,’ but that we’d lose our ‘luck’ if we ever revealed our gift,” he explains. “So none of us did. Until her funeral, that is, when we each hinted and finally revealed the secret she’d imparted. What may have appeared to be inappropriate laughter at the solemn occasion was simply her grandchildren recognizing and applauding her crafty wisdom.”
All of the works in the Black Box New Play Festival’s lineup were written to be staged via Zoom. Collins wrote Trading Places in fall 2019 and of course, conceived it with the intention of having the three characters—a father, his wife, and their teenage daughter—appearing on stage together. When COVID-19 hit and theaters began to close, he turned his attention to revising plays that he thought could be performed as radio plays or virtually. Last summer, his 10-minute play Humanoid Traffic Stop was included in the Village Players of Fort Thomas’s virtual production, It’s Alive-ish! (He came up with that play after reading an article on engineers considering robot police officers.)
“In writing Trading Places as a Zoom play, I felt I needed to provide a rationale for the three characters to be separated in space,” Collins notes. “That required revision, but I didn’t want the revisions—the rationale for their separation in space—to take over the play.”
While he continues to accumulate material that can be adapted for the world we’re currently living in, the playwright hopes to eventually get back to productions that are meant for the stage.
“I believe the pandemic’s effects on creative output (writing, film, and art production) will persist long after the pandemic has ended,” Collins says. “The resources necessary for a Zoom production are much less than a fully staged production. But I don’t imagine staged theatrical productions for live audiences will decline. Theatergoers will want to remain such. Gathering in face-to-face communities in order to experience public art is beginning to feel like a quaint vestige of a long-ago golden age. We’ll want it back!”
Trading Places runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, through Sunday, Jan. 24.