Changing Lanes at FirstWorks

Changing Lanes Director Elizabeth Ross

Way back at the beginning of the year I was incredibly pleased to be selected to direct a staged reading of Changing Lanes by Maggie Kearnan and Taylor Buehler, the 2020 selection for our FirstWorks program for new plays.

When I first read Changing Lanes I knew it was a very special script and its themes of identity, reaching out for human connection, and the difficult necessity of changing plans in the face of tragedy would be profoundly affecting for our audience. Little did I know how much more resonant the work would become during this world crisis. 

FirstWorks isn’t like other Theatre@First productions. We’re not just trying to put on the best show possible, the purpose of FirstWorks is to help our playwrights refine their play through the editing process and by receiving responses from our audience. We couldn’t let a beautiful play like Changing Lanes not be produced and it would be a disservice to our authors to not find some way to get them the feedback on their work they deserve. 

We felt we could still produce this “staged reading" over Zoom, but how could we replicate the feeling of a live performance? Live theater is special because of the unique experience of having people physically in a room together witnessing creation that is happening in real time. We worked really hard to create the same emotional intimacy over the internet. It has been a fascinating experience to work with this new format and to explore a new theatrical language. 

We learned our actors needed to be super active and engaged in a very intentional way to make up for not actually being in the same room. They also had to adjust to giving a lot of feedback to their scene partners by actively listening and reacting, but still staying silent as conflicting sound really messes with the technology. 

While there are parts of the play that call for the use of recorded voices, I definitely decided against it because in performing over the internet we already had a layer of distance between the actors and the audience and we wanted to create as much human and interpersonal connection as we can.

This script describes some beautiful full body choreography which we had to adapt to work just with the hands and the face and to fit in the small frame of our computer screens.

In this time of social distancing, it has been such a privilege to be able to reach out and create with other artists through this production. I hope that what we learned during this experience can help the next online Theater@First productions to creatively use this new format to keep our theater community together.

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