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The Evolution of Theatre? Skype Personal Performances from PopUp Theatrics

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Picture this: 30 artists and actors, spanning across 5 continents. An intimate theater experience, customized personally for you (not the audience, YOU specifically).

A pitch this crazy would’ve had the most experienced Broadway producer tossed out on the street. But against all odds, the New York City-based independent theater artists of PopUp Theatrics found a way to make this happen.

PopUp Theatrics’ latest work, Long Distance Affair, is a series of 1-on-1 Skype video call performances. Tamilla Woodard, partner at PopUp Theatrics, summed it up nicely, “It’s all about proximity, a closeness it brings…how close you can FEEL to someone vs. how close you actually physically are to them. Skype does just that.”

I recently attended the show at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City to see what all of the hype was about. I was guided to a room with three laptops, each featuring a performance from an actor or actress in a different country. My first performance took me to Russia, where an actress with a thick accent told me of her struggles with the secret police, who’d ripped her family away from her. After serenading me with a defiant song against her local government, police sirens began wailing in the background and before I knew it the call was ended.

My next call transported me to London, where I was greeted by an at-first flirtatious, then vulnerable young woman who was struggling with isolation and abandonment after moving to a new city.

My final call whisked me away to California, where I watched a young woman excitedly prepare for a date. As the monologue continued, I learned more about her mystery date and why she loved him so much. It took some time to realize the musician with long brown hair, etc. was in fact, me.

When the performance ended, I was stunned. I had such a raw, visceral reaction to each of the performances, and recalled the thoughts that had been racing through my mind during each performance: Do I respond to that? What do I say? I feel bad for her. Is this REAL?  “You wouldn’t get those experiences/feelings if it was a Skype performance projected on a wall for a large audience,” said Woodard. “[These performances] maintain what Skype does so well…not connecting a person to an audience, but connecting people to people.”

The idea for A Long Distance Affair came from the personal experiences Ana Margineanu, co-founder of PopUp Theatrics, had with Skype. “I started a long distance relationship with the man who would become my husband,” Margineanu said. “When I moved to the U.S., I kept in touch with my parents over Skype…I was seeing them more often when I was here than when I lived right around the block. It’s stunning to have an experience like that with someone, like you’re in the same room when you’re a world apart.  I wanted to bring that feeling to theater.”

So far, the critics and audiences have given the performances two big thumbs up. “We have actors miles away, but our audiences have told us they felt closer to them, in a deeper experience than they’ve felt in a traditional theater,” said Margineanu. “They can see the actor’s eyes, they feel the personalization, and in turn then the actor can see how the audience member is reacting.”

“The actors have to be very truthful,” Woodard added. “They are so up close with their audience that if they’re not really ‘present’ for the performance, it is super obvious…it makes it so much more exhausting for them.”

As for what’s next for the PopUp Theatrics team?  They’re taking their motto to heart, “When theater meets technology, possibilities become endless,” and bringing Long Distance Affair to the UK for a run at Edinburgh Fringe.  Check out some photos of their New York performances below:

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