Since the pandemic, Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s productions have switched gears to virtual. They used their Educational Outreach Program department to produce plays more critical to our community, including topics like bullying, opioid use, and prejudice. The focus is now on young teens through college students utilizing them as their primary actors. A panel discussion is held to deal with various issues of the theme of the play after each performance and available to all.
On May 21, 2021. PMTC will be opening “To the New Girl: Sound Advice for My Husband’s Wife or Mistress,” written by local playwright, Samantha Macher. The main character, a woman, deals with her love and loss in a sometimes humorous and also painful way. There are some poignant moments as well. The cast includes Emily Gilson, Susan Holliday, Yvonne Paretzky, and Liz Weber. Laurie T. Freed will direct.
I had a chance to talk with Laurie T. Freed about the changes at PMTC and about some changes in her own life since the pandemic.
Laurie T. Freed, Artistic Director of Peace Mountain Theatre Company, holds Masters’ degrees in theater and drama therapy. For over 30 years, she has been an actor, director, lecturer, and teacher of theater. Laurie has won several awards as a director and stage performer. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Hal. As PMTC has gone virtual due to the pandemic, Laurie has created and produced these programs.
How have you personally dealt with the pandemic?
My husband and I have experienced the pandemic much like all Americans. We have stayed indoors most of the time, venturing out for walks and the necessary groceries. We consider ourselves fortunate in being able to get both vaccine shots this past winter. The hardest thing was not being able to see our children and grandchildren in Minnesota, but they are flying out this month to be with us for a family occasion. In many ways, the pandemic brought me and my husband closer together. An added bonus, for sure.
How has Peace PMTC changed with the pandemic and social and political unrest this past year?
Peace Mountain Theatre Company was greatly altered by the pandemic. We had a whole season chosen, but with Covid 19, all of our plays were cancelled. In addition, we were very excited about moving into The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. That, too, was cancelled. And so, we had to pivot. We turned to our Educational Outreach department and “zoomed.” The content of these events dealt with important issues currently happening in our community, such as, an entire program of black playwrights’ monologues performed by incredible black actors; a roundtable on how the pandemic is affecting our children; a one act play, “The Other,” which dealt with prejudice, performed by student actors, followed with an improv session with the zoom audience; and a one act play, “The Empty Chair,” which opened our eyes to the opioid crisis and its effect on our children. It was performed by student actors and followed with a question and answer session with experts in the field. We just finished shooting “To the New Girl,” our first attempt at film. The play will be available May 21 and 22 at 8 pm and May 23 at 2 pm. There has been a great deal of social and political unrest in our country. PMTC did not shy away. In fact, we met it head on with editorials in our newsletter, which goes out to people on our mailing list. These comments came in a variety of forms — editorial comment, poetry, graphics, and photography. Our Educational Outreach programs also played a strong part. PMTC prides itself in being involved in relevant issues of profound importance to our community and society.
What is the biggest difference between live theatre and virtual theatre from the production end?
The biggest difference between live and virtual theatre is “you can’t hear them breathing.” There is something electric in a live performance which all actors thrive on. I must admit though, another difference is that a lot can go wrong with a virtual production. Audience members can lose their connection; lighting is either too dark or too light; and people’s faces can pop up in the middle of a performance. There are so many bells and whistles to virtual productions. We were initially not prepared nor knowledgeable to do what was necessary. But, with time and a lot of help from computer experts, we put on some shows we are very proud of.
What made you choose “To the New Girl” for your group?
We chose “To the New Girl” because it is a full-length play which calls for actresses to perform monologues dealing with love and loss. For our first venture into filming, I thought this would be a good approach. Another very important reason for me was that this play is by a relatively unknown, local playwright, Samantha Macher, and PMTC wants to promote and expose new talent to the area.
What were the challenges of this particular production?
You asked for the challenges in doing this play, honestly, not many. As the director, I set up a rehearsal schedule for the actors, and we zoomed every week. Zooming also gave me the chance to see what each monologue would look like “in frame,” as well as, helping the actors prepare for filming. Acting for stage is quite different than film. Film acting is much smaller than stage acting. There’s no need to talk loudly and make huge gestures when you are performing into a camera. By rehearsing with zoom, I could monitor sound and movement better and the problem was eliminated. There were some glitches along the way, but we managed to deal with them and move on.
“To the New Girl” will run from May 21 and 22, 2021 at 8 pm and May 23, 2021 at 2 pm. For information on registration to view the show (which is free) and for more information on Peace Mountain Theatre Company, go to their website.