What does a theater company do when it can’t make theater? Make a film.

If there ever was a time that demanded that we put our actions where our mouths were and do what we do best, this is it. Here’s a fine example of truly positive thinking.

by Peter Marks

The idea struck Molly Smith, Arena Stage’s artistic director, on a morning of the pandemic when she was reading the newspaper and reflecting on what a theater company might make when it can’t make theater:

Capture the moment, in the manner of a news crew.

“Newspapers do really well with thumbnail sketches, and I thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?,’ ” she recalled. “What if we interviewed 10 diverse people in one day, with really good writers. A real snapshot in time. A love letter to this area. Something to say: ‘This happened here.’ ”And so, a renowned theater company has taken a novel turn — into moviemaking.

In short order, Arena found 10 actors, 10 playwrights and 10 ordinary people from in and around Washington — among them, a nurse on a covid-19 ward; a high school senior; a pharmacist; a police detective; a climate change activist. On a single day — May 22 — each writer contacted their subject, spent two or three hours in conversation, and then set about the task of turning their words into five-minute monologues. All of which, too, would be filmed on a single day.

The result is titled, crisply and dramatically, “May 22, 2020.” It debuts online Friday for those who have signed up for Arena Stage’s Supper Club — a dine-and-watch experience — and then it will be available free to the general public beginning Saturday on Arena’s website, arenastage.org, for the immediate future. The project includes such accomplished actors as Holly Twyford, KenYatta Rogers, Edward Gero, Rachel Zampelli, Dawn Ursula and Nancy Robinette. They were hired to recite speeches by such writers as Psalmayene 24, Karen Zacarias, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, John Strand and Annalisa Dias. It is all meant to evoke the style of Studs Terkel, the Chicago journalist who in his book “Working,” and other works, catalogued the verbatim accounts of average Americans….

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