While theaters across D.C. remain dark because of Covid-19, Round House Theatre is bringing a little light to the virtual stage by presenting an original web series titled Homebound that explores life under the District’s social distancing orders.
“When we had to cancel our final shows of the season, we paid actors and designers as much as we could, but we’re not [bringing] any income in. We were looking for something that would allow us to give work to the people who lost jobs as a result of our cancellations,” says Ryan Rilette, Round House’s Artistic Director, who will direct the series remotely, along with associate artistic director Nicole A. Watson. “We also wanted to allow playwrights to respond to what’s happening right now.”
The 10-episode series premieres April 27 on the theater’s YouTube page and will continue each Monday, through June 29. Each episode runs 10 minutes.
Homebound is being written by 10 different playwrights, each responsible for their respective week’s scene, a continuation of the previous episode.
“This idea of working with a chain story comes from trying to find a way that would allow the playwrights to write in their own style and their own voice, and quickly turn out content,” Rilette says.
Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Craig Wallace, Round House Theatre’s resident artists, star in the first episode written by humorist Alexandra Petri. From there, others will join Ebrahimzadeh or Wallace, though only two actors will be seen each week.
“It’s certainly ambitious and I was happy to be invited to be a part of it,” Wallace says. “This is sort of like an improv. We find out what the subject is and then lay the groundwork and try to tell a story. This is a unique situation, so everyone is going in trying to be flexible and stretching the boundaries.”
Other cast members include Alina Collins Maldonado, Yao Dogbe, Helen Hedman, Maya Jackson, Chinna Palmer, Lynette Rathnam and Jamie Smithson.
“One of the things that holds the whole storyline together is these two guys, one of which is in every episode, so they will have conversations with many other people,” Rilette says. “Craig has a big meeting coming up and he has screwed something up on Zoom that he doesn’t know how to fix, so he calls his buddy Maboud to help. He has recently returned from a conference where there was one person who had tested positive. He has a little bit of a cough; he thinks he’s fine but he doesn’t know for sure. The majority of the scene is the hilarity of trying to deal with working from off-site and the mistakes that happen when people not comfortable with technology have to use it in everyday life.”
Along with Petri, contributing playwrights include Karen Zacarías, Lawal Harris, Liz Maestri, Psalmayene 24, Tim J. Lord, Audrey Cefaly, Dani Stoller, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi and Caleen Sinnette Jennings.
“We matched up teams of actors with each playwright, and they are written based on the previous episode,” Rilette says. “As soon as a script is done, we send to all the playwrights so they have some sense of where this is going. For instance, we are finishing up the filming of the first episode, and the second episode script has just come in, and we will start planning that soon.”
The biggest challenge for directing a project like this, Rilette says, is relying on the actor to do everything such as lighting, sound and camera positioning, and seeing everything from his own home though a computer.
“Part of the fun is figuring this out and creating a way you can make a story even though everyone is isolated in their own home,” he says.
For the first episode, actors used Zoom to connect, and Round House sent equipment such as lights and tripods to help them produce the best picture quality.
“I think the fact that we are even embarking on this is worth a look,” Wallace says. “We have a great bunch of artists and a great design team involved. We’re going into this with a positive mindset and willing to embrace their stories.”
For more information about Homebound and Round House Theatre’s offerings, visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.