Now that live theatre has returned, Virtual Collaborators used the chance to come together to create the Virtual Collaborators Festival. It is a weekend of live theatre and music performed on the lawn next to St. John’s Church in Leytonstone.
You can feel the excitement in the air as we gather in front of a make-shift stage set-up between gravestones. Virtual Collaborators came out of lockdown with the intent to bring people together and tell stories and that is what they are doing tonight.
The first story is one of miscommunication. In Here, Neill Hardy, Iniki Mariano and Caleb Roberts explore what it means to be human and look for connection in a world where that isn’t allowed. In a mix of verbatim and physical theatre the three characters engage in a back and forth as they stand or kneel in front of their microphones and try to have a conversation with each other. The rest is up to the interpretation of the audience and leaves many gaps to fill.
The next short play in the line-up is Brick. As if it was written for the performance venue, it is a piece about what it means, as a woman, to believe in god. Julian (Charlotte Blandford) wants to become an Anchoress. She has been sent signs by god — not very useful signs, as she remarks — and hopes to understand the meaning behind them. Blandford embarks on her comedic journey and meets Margery (Hannah Rosen), who also seems to have a special connection to faith. Unfortunately, by the end of the play I am still wondering about the meaning of it.
Up next is my favourite segment of the evening: four short pieces in which Virtual Collaborators have put together writers and actors of colour in order to challenge type-casting within the industry.
The segment kicks off with a monologue titled Above the Moon & Stars, written by Naomie Ackie and performed by Bayo Gbadamosi. Gbadamosi addresses a character named Esther who seems to have just initiated a break-up. Gbadamosi poetically opens his heart up to her in an emotional and heartfelt performance which leaves the audience in silent awe.
As the second performer of the segment, Martina Laird glamorously enters the stage and boldly claims that she is, in fact, a butterfly: a child of a Painted Lady (which is also the fitting title for the piece) and a moth. In her enchanting and captivating manner, she ends the monologue with a poetic piece about the fact that we can all be butterflies if we just believe.
Following that are aliens — aliens on earth — and Danusia Samal serves as The Interpreter between them and us. As tourists, the aliens have to be made aware of our rules and regulations: do not eat humans, respect our emotions and learn about justice. It is witty, it is funny, and it manages to question what it means to be part of humankind and how insane the whole thing really is. And Samal’s reaction to alien tentacles is earning deserved laughter from the audience.
In I don’t call myself an Influencer, you do, Michele Austin is a brand ambassador for hoola hoops and is delivering a painstakingly realistic monologue on how to create online content and what is ethical on the socials — it has to have reach after all! The show is the comic relief at the end of the Dream Casting segment and leaves the audience in good spirits.
Set in a mystical underwater world, Angelina Chudi is up next and tells us the story of the ocean. With the help of clever puppetry and stunning visuals, Chudi performs a snippet of Alex Critoph’s audio play Sway addressing the topic of climate change. Her melodic voice narrates the piece but it is the imagery that leaves me with goosebumps as we become witnesses to the female spirit of the ocean.
The last performance of the day comes from Nalân Burgess and Tiran Aakel in Leaving It. Three siblings have just inherited a house from their mother and in the following ten minutes we get an insight into family relations and how sometimes the choice we think to be the right one is actually not the one that will bring us happiness. It is a lovely and realistic tribute to what it means to be a family and how we sometimes have to take a step back to realise the beauty of a situation.
It only goes to say that Virtual Collaborators Festival is a wonderful collection of performing arts. It brings all of us together by working with theatres and freelancers to create opportunities and help artists develop in these unusual times. It feels like a celebration of the art that has come from being secluded and living in a time of uncertainty.
The Virtual Collaborators Festival took place 12 and 13 September. For more information, visit the Virtual Collaborators website.