The Streaming Experience: Felt Sad, Posted a Frog (and other streams of global quarantine),
Diving into the new streaming world of artistic endeavors, Cherry Artists’ Collective has given the world the Premiere presentation of Felt Sad, Posted a Frog (and other streams of global quarantine), an artist-driven play of the highest order, available online from May 1-9. Collaborating with six playwrights from around the world, the Cherry Artists’ Collective has handcrafted the unique creations into a single-layered piece of live-streamed theatre, shuffling them expertly like a deck of cards, and pushing forth their signature styled text for us to sit back in our living room and take in. Co-directed by Artistic Director Samuel Buggeln and Collective member Beth F. Milles, the different realms of international creativity surges with an energy and a mindset made for the situation, quarantined for the foreseeable future, and found within a compelling way to connect and facilitate discussion and compassion.
This is clearly the new frontier these days, brought on intensely with the closing of live theaters and our quarantine practices. Both have taken away the gathering mentality of live theatre, sending that world into a crisis of epic proportions. Luckily for us theatre junkies, there has been an almost infinite stock of live theatre productions filmed before the crisis set forward for streaming, mostly for free (with a request for donations attached), from theatre companies around the world, ranging from National Theatre and The Globe Theatre in London to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. Clearly, the urge has been strong, to entertain, uplift, and gather support using theatrical these theatrical shows, as well as specials, such as Take Me To The World: Sondheim’s 90th Birthday Concert, the epic Shows Must Go On YouTube presentations of Andrew Lloyd Webber filmed productions, and the twice-daily YouTube fundraiser and celebrity chat show, Stars in the House.
Theater companies have also jumped to the lead, trying hard out of desperation to discover ways of staying tuned in and connected to our emotional bandwidth, offering original and live plays like Richard Nelson’s What Do We Need To Talk About? live-streamed out from and for The Public Theater, as well as the prerecorded Broadway musical, Bandstand, and Rattlestick‘s The Sibling Play. And this is just the shortlist of plays, productions, interviews, artist talks, and many other creative structures being developed and presented for our theatrical pleasure, raising money for such charities as The Artists Fund, and others, to help out our community, and beyond. It’s noble and inventive, giving us opportunities we usually wouldn’t have so freely and easily come by, and one that keeps us connected to the bigger picture and the universality of the situation. Hopefully this will change how we view the arts, our priorities, and the way we treat and engage with one another. Yes, I’m being optimistic in this “clear, tense realism” that we are living in, but I’m going to hold onto that ideal, until proven otherwise.
With a creative structure filled with humor and poetry, Felt Sad, Posted a Frog (and other streams of global quarantine) explores the human interactions and relationships that have been pushed and pulled apart by the pandemic and the quarantine. The cast of thirteen including members of the Cherry Artists’ Collective and others, perform the plays with determination and intensity. Spoken in English, with translations by Neil Blackadder, Buggeln, and Ana Brdar, the six spoken live plays are interwoven for effect, streaming into our homes like an avalanche of Zoom calls and FaceTime talks, destined to overwhelm and excite our already over-occupied minds. It’s structurally complex, jumping back and forth from the six new works of online theatre that have created to tell their detailed quarantine stories of love, loss, and emotional discomfort.
Felt Sad, Posted Frog (and other streams of global quarantine) structures itself as a multi-focused “live stream fever dream”, splitting the scenarios up and weaving them together to form a thematic work of heightened art. The Cherry Artists’ Collective, a theater company based in Ithaca, N.Y., has assembled the layering to pull us into each of the dynamics, giving us a bit here and there to attach to and possible bond with. The title play, written by Rebekka Kricheldorf, takes place in Berlin and is broken into five hilariously wonderful segments. In between those staccato segments, the others are inserted. There is a three-segment untitled play by Argentine playwright Santiago Loza about an older separated but caring ex-couple communicating over Zoom that feels epic in muddled sadness and despair. They compulsively reach out, staring out the window as the inside gets scarier and scarier. “I thought about you again” repeats itself in the tense calm of the hour as it fades into the day, where “all this quiet” has so much noise attached to it. There is also a three-segment play called “after” by Salvadoran playwright Jorgelina Cerritos, who poetically chronicles the days of a tense scared woman in lockdown who is troubled by the street. Fear flows from within this woman, as she writes a letter to the outside world that is both heartfelt and achingly poetic and true.
Starting off the adventure, one of the characters beautifully tells us he “Felt Sad, Posted a Frog and immediately felt better.” But that feeling doesn’t last very long, as the days float by during his lockdown that finds him feeling alone, lost, and trapped in his Berlin apartment. Following that admission, he chronicles in snippets of unconscious flow a litany of events and observations made while he attempts to live through tragedy and tension. He hovers like smoke over the possible wreckage of his mind, all the while living and breathing in, what is basically a music-streamed cardboard box. Many New Yorkers can completely relate. He also tells us that one of his “Facebook friends berated me, said he couldn’t stand seeing any more of these Goddamn frogs. ..” He unfriended that person instantly. The piece is heartbreaking, hilarious, and intensely upsetting, all rolled up in a fully formed bravado performance.
The slapdash and charmingly abstract “brightness of the screen warming our skin” by Serbian playwright Iva Brdar, has an elaborate, humorous interaction between a woman looking for help from some sort of mock manual or instructional website, listing off steps to prevent loneliness, to understand a foot fetish, or how to learn how to wait. “You think/I am not alone/I have ten fingers…./There are 11 of us.” Split into three segments, the format is repetitious and hard to hold tight at first, but as it plays out towards its tense ending, the dramatic arch finds its meaning and delivers the blow wisely and with surprising self-referential wit.
Only two of the pieces are presented intact with a deliberate force. One of the better ones is “ZOOM Birthday Party,” by Romanian playwright Saviana Stanescu. It finds Oana, portrayed by Helen T. Clark, a student at NYU stuck in her dorm room in New York, trying to find a way to celebrate her birthday by organizing a Zoom session with her family. First up is her younger brother, Radu, played by Joseph D’Amore, quarantined with his grandparents in Romania, and then it is with their mother Lia, portrayed by Elizabeth Mozer, who finds herself trapped in Italy with an “old geezer” she’s been hired to take care of. Resentments and shame are served as they all try so hard to connect and make light of horrible situations and far away distancing that has infiltrated their lives. It’s not played for the heartbreak, but it is instilled, as with most of these pieces, with a clear level of warmth and playfulness that registers, throwing itself fully into the abstract beauty of a familial dance party.
The pieces of this reactionary ode to quarantine and aloneness fit together thematically and emotionally, but even in their internal drama, there were moments of struggle to stay attuned and interested. Many moments feel far too repetitious and somewhat obvious, although all feel authentic and real. Although occasionally hard to absorb, I did find several specific moments within each that registered quite powerfully within the show. The poetry pushes and pulls at us in and out of these moments of connection. The ex-couple, symbolically abstract, feels sometimes far from one another in regards to poetic connection and introspection, but the ending delivers a heartfelt attachment that makes it all feel so real and upsetting. The same could be said to most of this overly long piece.
Felt Sad Posted Frog (and other streams of global quarantine) delivers a grounded, although not perfectly attuned, exploration in the global quarantine dilemma of mental breakdown, loving attachment, and emotional pain. By bringing together these six playwrights and thirteen talented performers from three continents, the Cherry Artists’ Collective should be applauded for developing this elevated event, even when at times it borders on an overly self-conscious platform of poetry and intellectualism. It’s a new form of theatre, and it will take some experimentation to find out what works and what doesn’t. I watched all alone in self-isolation from Canada, along with so many others from all over the world, and in that, it gave me a sense of hope and purpose. It reached out and pulled me in, even when I wanted to look away to my other devices for escape or connection. This type of entertainment will never be able to compete with the live theatrical experience I miss whole-heartedly every day of the week (I think) but to help us navigate this turmoil, it does its duty. We all “can’t stop watching” the howling dogs. Felt Sad… makes us feel less crazy and definitively not alone in the madness of the world that surrounds and stays respectfully distant from us on a daily bases. To keep experimenting and keep trying to break the aloneness we are all feeling, even when surrounded by others. And even though I, in the wise words of Felt Sad…, “can’t stand watching any more live stream…from a satirist on live stream“, I also can’t deny that it’s a worthy cause, and one I’m glad I tuned in for.
The writers of Felt Sad, Posted a Frog are well-known both to fans of international theater and to patrons of the Cherry Artspace:
- Iva Brdar — Belgrade, Serbia (Rule of Thumb (Cherry 2018)— two-time Theatertreffen Stückemarkt shortlist)
- Jorgelina Cerritos — San Salvador, El Salvador (On the Other Side of the Sea, Cherry 2020; Casa De Las Americas Award for Drama)
- Rebekka Kricheldorf — Berlin, Germany (Testosterone, Cherry 2019; Kleis, Kassel, and Saarbrücken theater awards)
- Santiago Loza — Buenos Aires, Argentina (Winter Animals, Nothing to do with Love, and The Saint, Cherry 2017 & 2019; Un Certain Regard prize, Cannes Film Festival)
- Saviana Stanescu — Bucharest, Romania/Ithaca, NY (What Happens Next, Cherry 2017; Innovative Theater Award, New York)
- Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon — Ithaca, NY (lyricist of The Snow Queen, Cherry 2016-18; National Book Award finalist for poetry)
Translations are by Neil Blackadder, Buggeln, and Ana Brdar.
“Since 2014 the Cherry has been making theatre by our watchwords ‘radically global, radically local, formally innovative’. We’ve created productions with writers from Serbia, France, Germany, Argentina, El Salvador, and Quebec, as well as experimental new works based in our histories of upstate NY. This tough current moment is a paradox: a time of forced isolation that is bringing people from vastly different places into common(-ish) experience. The Cherry is humbled and grateful for the opportunity to bring together theater-makers’ voices from around the world, to muse in their very different ways on the days we are all living through,” says CAC Artistic Director Samuel Buggeln.
Schedule of live stream performances:
Friday, May 1 at 7:30 pm ET
Saturday, May 2 at 2:30 pm ET
Thursday, May 7 at 7:30 pm ET
Friday, May 8 at 7:30 pm ET
Saturday, May 9 at 2:30 pm ET
Sliding scale tickets start at $15 and can be purchased at bit.ly/FeltSadPostedAFrogTix.
Confirmations will be sent by email followed by an exclusive link to the live stream, which will be sent an hour before performance time.