Director Tai Thompson sits in a quiet corner at her parents' home in Daytona Beach, where she's been in quarantine since the outbreak. She finds a spot that’s not too sunny but also secluded enough to conduct a private rehearsal session with an actor, who is holed up over 1,000 miles away in New York City.
Thompson, who grew up in Miami and splits her time between the Big Apple and South Florida, is directing a new kind of immersive theater experience, Long Distance Affair. The Miami native is no stranger to experimental theater, having worked with Juggerknot Theater Company before, for its Miami Motel Stories series. But working on a virtual performance is a new level, even for the seasoned director.
“There’s plenty of things in my life I never thought I’d be doing that I’m doing,” Thompson tells New Times. “Since we can’t be in spaces together physically, we’re finding new ways to be together [virtually].”
As its name suggests, A Long Distance Affair brings together actors from around the world. On multiple continents, computer screens are broadcasting Zoom video calls among the actors and directors who are working on this ambitious project. From Singapore to Paris, New York to London, and Madrid to Miami, audiences are in for quite a journey (minus the jetlag). The one-week online performance, which begins Saturday, May 23, is produced by Miami’s own Juggerknot Theater Company and New York-based PopUP Theatrics.
Similar to a live immersive theater experience, the audience has a role to play. In this instance, it's a crucial one.
Participants will be strongly encouraged to activate their own computer's camera and sound when signing on to the virtual performance space. In this way, the actors will be able to interact with every audience member, completing the metaphorical circuit that conducts the electricity of in-person, live theater.
“We want you to actively participate with us. We want you to have your camera and your sound on,” Thompson says. “We want to be able to feel as if we’re still in the same space and we’re still having a communal experience.”
Unlike other online content that’s currently streaming, such as taped performances or actors participating in a table reading, Long Distance Affair won't exist without an audience.
“Here, if the audience isn’t present, there is no show because you are the show,” Thompson says.
Audience members can select from six different cities or pick a "package" that includes three stops. Each destination is a standalone storyline and performances clock in at about ten minutes each. Although the plots do not intertwine, the New York-based director promises they’re all exciting. “You don’t know what you’re going to get until you get there and they’re all unique experiences,” Thompson says.
The experience might be as intimate as a one-on-one with you and the actor or it could be a larger group of up to four other strangers.
The beauty of Long Distance Affair is that whichever destination you select, there is legitimately an actor in that city at that very moment. No greenscreen or make-believe here.
“Where the actor is, is where you go,” Thompson says.
As for directing an actor who is not in the same room, Thompson admits it has proven to be a new challenge that has forced her to more finely attune herself to the subtleties of body language.
Thompson credits her immersive-theater experience for preparing her for the challenges that come with directing an actor through a computer screen.
“I’m so used to working one-on-one with actors and incorporating the audience into the scene and things like that,” the director says. “I was up for this new challenge, and what I’ve learned is that I need to be very precise in what I’m showing my actor and get all the information across within this small virtual frame.”
Ticket prices start at $11 for one destination to $40 for three, and 65 percent of the proceeds go to pay the actors.
"Immersive theater already has an advantage over traditional theater of not having to be in a conventional space and not needing audience members to be next to each other for the entire performance," Thompson says. “Once COVID is over, we can learn from this experience to find new, innovative ways to come together physically even when people are hesitant to be near others.”
Long Distance Affair. 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 23, through Saturday, May 30. Tickets cost $11 to $40 via longdistanceaffair.info.