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The cast of Short North Stage's

Resilient Ohio: Short North Stage Virtual Production Brings Lights, Camera, Action to the Living Room

Short North Stage Artistic Director Edward Carignan and cast members of Bad Jews, Jake Loewenthal, Nick Cosgrove, and Annie Winneg. Following several rounds of negative COVID-19 tests, the four-person cast and Carignan met in-person at an Airbnb to film the performance, which was then produced and streamed as a virtual play. Photo courtesy of Short North Stage.A virtual performance presented by Columbus’ Short North Stage takes working from home to a new level.

In the play “Bad Jews,” a dark comedy by Joshua Harmon, three cousins and one of their girlfriends are stuck sharing a studio apartment the night after their grandfather’s funeral. As tensions rise, the group is forced to face the harsh truths of family, faith, and legacy as their confinement in a small space continues.

It’s a premise that hits close to home amid a year of social distancing and lockdowns, parallels that are not lost on members of the cast, who all moved into an Airbnb that doubled as a working set for the duration of filming.

“I’ve never lived in the same exact space where I was performing,” said Nick Cosgrove, a new Columbus resident and professional actor who plays Jonah Haber, one of the cousins, in the show. “It’s amazing how we have the cameras set up downstairs, (where) we film the play. Our set has a working sink and a working stove—very different from usual play sets—so we are able to actually use those things in the filming of the scenes. It’s very fun to get to play with that realism.”

The cast came together after a week of virtual Zoom rehearsals. Once everyone completed four rounds of COVID-19 testing—that all turned out negative—the four-person cast, as well as Short North Stage Artistic Director Edward Carignan, met in-person to film the performance, which was then produced and streamed as a virtual play.

Bad Jews is a dark comedy by Joshua Harmon about three cousins and one of their girlfriends who are stuck sharing a studio apartment the night after their grandfather's funeral. As tensions rise, the group is forced to face the harsh truths of family, faith, and legacy as their confinement in a small space continues. Photo courtesy of Short North Stage.“(The process is) somewhere in between making a play and making a movie. It’s theatre-making meets filmmaking,” Carignan said. “We’ve gotten really good at using technology to its fullest.”

The 2020-21 season was supposed to be a big one—the 10th anniversary—for Short North Stage, a professional theatre company “dedicated to bringing first-class live performance to the Short North Arts District” from the historic halls of the Garden Theater, as described on its website.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced performing arts organizations and venues across Ohio and the world to shutter in-person operations in early spring of last year, Carignan said that Short North Stage was inspired to launch an all-virtual slate of shows which formed what would soon be called their “Season 9.5.”

“We forecasted pretty early on that things were going to take a long time to get back to normal and that our options were to just let the Garden Theater sit there and do nothing, or we could try to figure out what was possible,” he said.

“Bad Jews” is Short North Stage’s fourth virtual production. Previous shows have included Andrew Lippa and Tommy Greenwald’s musical “John & Jen”; Howard Crabtree and Mark Waldrop’s “When Pigs Fly”; and the world premiere of “Quarantine with the Clauses,” a musical also penned by Waldrop. A virtual production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” is the next project the Short North Stage team will take on following the final streaming performance of “Bad Jews” on Feb. 14.

Producing modified performances for a digitally engaged audience has required some adjustment from cast and crew, but exploring the possibilities of virtual theatre has “(kept) people engaged and artists working,” Carignan said, adding that their holiday show, “Quarantine with the Clauses,” alone featured more than 50 local performers and interns.

Annie Winneg, Nick Cosgrove, Jake Loewenthal, and Ali Foley star in Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, presented virtually by Short North Stage. Photo courtesy of Short North Stage.For Cosgrove and his fellow actors, the experience of filming “Bad Jews” was a temporary glimpse back into the world of theatre from pre-pandemic times.

“It was kind of strange taking off your mask and working with strangers. It was exciting! There’s a huge difference between talking to a computer on Zoom and actually acting with the cast in person,” he said. “Once we were done with rehearsals, we’d put the set pieces away and just hang out together in the same space as a cast. We’d share stories, get to know each other, and eventually disperse to our rooms for the evening.”

Although the world is not quite ready to return to (show) business as usual, both Carignan and Cosgrove expressed their hope that performances like “Bad Jews” will give people a taste of the live theatre they’ve been missing until stages and seats can be filled safely again.

“Now more than ever, I think we need a sense of unity and community,” Cosgrove said. “I think we need to be able to connect with one another. I think there’s no better way (to do that) than through the arts—through music, visual arts, and storytelling—that sort of take you away for an hour or two to peer into the world of someone else.”

And when it is possible to gather once more, know that Ohio’s arts organizations are ready for your return.

“When you’re vaccinated and safe, please come back,” Carignan said. “Support the arts however you can right now by watching virtual shows and donating, but then when it’s up again, still continue to support it, because without patrons we are nothing.”

Short North Stage is a Sustainability grant recipient of the Ohio Arts Council. For more information, visit shortnorthstage.org.

Resilient Ohio is an ongoing series highlighting the innovative solutions developed by Ohio arts organizations as they navigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has created incredible financial obstacles for the arts across the country. According to Americans for the Arts, the negative economic impact of the coronavirus on the arts and cultural sector totals $14.8 billion across the nation—and counting. If you have a story to share about creative perseverance within Ohio’s arts community, please email it to communications@oac.ohio.gov.
 

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist, and Cassie Rea, 2021 Ohio Arts Council Arts Administration Fellow
Featured photo: The cast of Short North Stage's "Bad Jews", including Nick Cosgrove, Ali Foley, Jake Loewenthal, and Annie Winneg. Photo courtesy of Short North Stage.



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