Local theater company to release its first audio play this week

By Kelly McDonnell

This article was first published November 16, 2020 in The DC Line here.

DC theater company Edge of the Universe Players 2 will release its first-ever audio play — a production of Anton Chekhov’s comedy short, The Marriage Proposal.

Adapting a stage performance to an auditory-only experience, director Stephen Jarrett says, is a welcome challenge. “The fear is not a bad thing,” he said.

The show — which will be available through Dec. 2 — will feature local actors Kim Gilbert, Jamie Smithson and Cody Nickell. Rehearsals and recording, which will take place over Zoom, are occurring in the span of just one week.

Smithson has done several Zoom productions during the pandemic, but this is his first audio play.

“I’m very eager to see this podcast because it’s just a different way of approaching the art. I think a lot of companies are going to do it,” said Smithson, whose area credits include shows at Arena Stage, Folger Theatre and Signature Theatre, among others.

Moving a stage production into an audio-only format presents challenges for actors as they attempt to connect to the audience and to the other actors.

“The choices that I make as an actor are going to change a little,” Smithson said. “With a farce like this, so much of it is physical, especially the clowning and all that. The vocal choices will have to be more important.”

“You want emotion to be seen,” Jarrett said. Now, “everything has to be put into the voice.”

Jarrett said rehearsing and recording audio over Zoom will allow the actors to react to each other organically and convey emotion for the listeners. If audience members can imagine the characters’ facial reactions, they will be more engaged with the play, he added. 

Jarrett has directed two previous shows for the theater company, Entertaining Mr. Sloane in 2015 and The Summoning of Everyman in 2013. Jarrett was supposed to direct a third show at this past summer’s Capital Fringe Festival, which celebrates independent artists in DC, but the festival was shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the cancellation, Edge of the Universe Players 2 still wanted to mount a production, and an audio play, which many theater organizations have been producing for years, seemed most accessible, Jarrett said.

“There is no replacing the live theater,” Smithson said. “Artists have to make art, and what’s happening is that everyone is finding their own way.”

The Marriage Proposal is a 22-minute, one-act comedy about three Russian aristocrats who argue about everything from polite manners to property ownership to hunting dogs. The characters’ attempts to control the arguments are what make the play so funny, Jarrett said.

Amid so much uncertainty and contention across the nation and world, Jarrett said this may be the ideal time to produce a comedic play. “The whole purpose of art, for theater, is to make time stand still,” Jarrett said. “For 22 minutes, maybe that will relax some people.”

A free podcast of the show will be available on Edge of the Universe Players 2’s website, with listeners encouraged to donate to the theater company.

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