Remember the up-close-and-personal of a Broadway theater? We’ve longed for it too, and Scranton Scratch Night by Pinkhouse Productions (whose team includes Lawryn LaCroix, Producer, Jennifer Jones, Consulting Producer, and Kate Maguire, Associate Producer) and Scranton Shakes (led by Michael Bradshaw Flynn, Scranton Shakespeare Festival Founder and Artistic Director and Jonathan Stephens, Scranton Shakespeare Festival Managing Director) brought us as close as possible for one night of remote theatrical performances from some of the top emerging talent in playwriting.
It may not have been off-Broadway exactly, instead all-the-way-off-Broadway on Zoom, but we were all jazz hands anyway to meet the four selected playwrights.
Narrowed from over 300 who submitted scripts on the theme of “Ghosts” across the US, UK, Europe and Canada – they included, Emily Powers (“Sunday Night At Jane’s), Sergei Burbank (“Conversion Rate”), Matthew Martinez (“Sheol”), and Ed Precht (“Strange, America”).
The thoughtful writing and performances veered into the extraordinary for the group of new talent, and each vignette was guided by Scratch Night host and remote-performance expert herself, Heidi Gardner, who performed remotely last year as a cast member alongside the whole SNL comedy cohort.
Emily Powers might have conjured the scariest ghost story of all in “Sunday Night At Jane’s”, when titular character Jane goes AWOL on her own dinner party that brings together each and every one of her exes for a hauntingly hilarious night of personality clashes and trauma bonding. Only Jane’s therapist in the room could have made it more awkward.
There was room for one surprise guest as Sergei Burbank introduced his “Conversion Rate”, his kid daughter enjoying a popsicle on camera. That alone would be enough to break Zoom fatigue, but the staggering performances of his winning script’s characters – an investigative journalist newly intervening on an old cop’s bad practices – blew us and the judges away.
The judges were veteran theater performers and producers April Matthis, Cavan Hallman, Phillippe Cato, Jayne Baron Sherman, and Jonny Beauchamp, who provided a discerning lens to see the works.
Beauchamp made a poignant call-out on behalf of Matthew Martinez, who went through his own plight with Covid-19 during the writing of “Sheol” last year. The creative process is a daunting, personal journey, just like the one his characters face staring into the abyss of a hole in a remote desert. Will the next team arrive to relieve them of their watch, or will their lives sink into insanity? – yet maybe life and sanity are both one in the same.
Asking daring existential questions is always at the core of a good story, and Ed Precht’s “Strange, America” that capped off the night was no different. A couple in a fraught relationship is probably rather blissful against the backdrop of this Strange city they suddenly find themselves in. That’s the real name of the borderless northwest town, which with its off-kilter townies make moments in limbo feel like they might never end.
Scranton Scratch Night may be over, but check out the program and get ready to watch the winning work from Sergei Burbank be performed in summer 2021 at the Scranton Shakespeare Festival (Scranton Shakes). All socially distanced, of course.
We really are giving new meaning to off-Broadway, aren’t we?
This post is a sponsored collaboration between Scranton Scratch Night and Gothamist sponsor staff.