Note: This is the seventh article of a series in which Buzz theater columnist and critic Laura Foti Cohen explores the creation of her Zoom-based play Neighborhood Newsy. (You can read Part 1 here and link to subsequent stories from there.) She has documented its development process for The Buzz. The show will be performed live on Zoom today and tomorrow, with tickets available here.
Today’s the day. We had a final dress rehearsal last night and Neighborhood Newsy 2021 goes live this afternoon and tomorrow night. Of course, I’m terrified. Self-doubt is a writer’s constant companion. But my confidence level rises because of the show’s 17 actors, who embraced their characters and raised the level of my script.
On Zoom, everyone is a multi-hyphenate. Actors do their own set design, lighting, sound, hair, makeup, props, choreography and stunt work. For NN2021, NEO Ensemble Theatre was fortunate to have actors who also excel at tech, graphic design and finance. (A small nonprofit theater group must be nimble!)
Last night’s rehearsal was a little rough in places. Everyone was “off book” (meaning they couldn’t read the script) and some lines got skipped or twisted. But like a messy wedding rehearsal that presages a perfect wedding, that actually made me feel better. It revealed where things needed attention, but also confirmed that the show is on its feet and will stride confidently into the spotlight. It also amped up the funny, as actors take their characters to places I never even imagined.
- Like Debra P. (Debra Key Lee), struggling with the loss of her beloved pet cat, Topper, who has turned to a puppet for companionship—and goes deep into that relationship.
- Like Kate and Nate (Ben Gillman and Vered Federman), who have spent the entire pandemic making out and appreciating each other—as they share close-to-graphically on camera.
- Like troll Joe S. (co-producer David St. James), whose actor turns out to have a room with the perfect backdrop for a weapons enthusiast.
- Like former teacher Babs B. (co-producer, co-director Rachel Winfree), exploring ways to celebrate retirement with a newly arrived co-worker from the past.
- Like spa owner Trystan (co-producer, co-director Michael Caldwell), determined to promote his business despite Neighborhood Newsy rules.
- And like theater actress GiGi (AnnaLisa Erickson), missing the road, who pulls out all the stops to entertain her Neighborhood Newsy compatriots.
Neighborhood Newsy 2021 is inspired by real NextDoor posts from our very own neighborhood. Knowing my obsession with the jaw-dropping things people say on that platform, sometimes friends in other cities send me examples. But I didn’t need to look outside the Greater Wilshire/Hancock Park area to find all the lunacy I needed as inspiration.
In some ways, I hope this is NEO’s last big Zoom production. Zoom fatigue is real, and theaters are reopening. But in other ways, I want to keep going. I enjoy the challenge of writing for performers who are in different places. It was a gift to learn together, as we have since our production of Character Flaws was cancelled in March 2020. As a bonus, none of us had to fight LA traffic to workshop and rehearse.
And here comes the blatant plug: there are bonuses for the audience too. They don’t have to look for parking, or even get dressed. They can eat, drink and be merry in whatever ways they choose during the show. And the donation-based tickets are pay-what-you want.
To quote Leo Bloom in my all-time favorite entertainment experience The Producers, good l…I mean break a leg.