Providing a glimpse into the life of a pandemic helper is the focus of Open Book’s next virtual one-to-one live theater offering, “Home Less,” available Mondays and Thursdays, Jan. 7 to 25, via Zoom.
The fourth of six offerings in the Trenton-based Open Book Theatre Company’s season, the 10-minute play is performed live for each unique subscriber, providing the immediacy of live theater without the viral risk of being in the same room.
Playwright Emily Rosenbaum, who wrote OBTC’s 30-minute summer driveway theater production, “The Complete Canon of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film (Abridged),” returns with another original play commissioned for OBTC, “Home Less.”
The story follows a mother recording a birthday greeting to her 11-year-old child, which is intended to be watched when her offspring becomes an adult.
It includes a nod to the sorting hat of the Harry Potter wizarding world, while also allowing one to see how her offspring is already following in her helper footsteps.
From a practical perspective, recording a message provides a framework for a parent to talk for 10 minutes without being interrupted.
“I’ve never talked to my kids for more than 4.3 seconds without being interrupted, so it took a while to figure out why she was allowed to finish so many sentences in a row,” Rosenbaum said.
She said Open Book is doing what theater has always done: Responding to the current situation and creating art from it.
“We all have our own individual experiences with this pandemic, and that can cloud how we imagine other people are handling it,” Rosenbaum said.
She said one rarely hears about the helpers who are trying to ease the side effects of the pandemic: Food insecurity, domestic violence, child abuse, unemployment, substance misuse and depression.
“The pandemic has underscored just how unequal our society is and just how deep-seated these problems are,” Rosenbaum said. “I hope the audience sees this army of helpers who have been beating back the human cost of shutdowns since March.”
During the pandemic, Rosenbaum said she has helped disseminate information near her own home on behalf of health and human service organizations, and it has given her a front-row seat to the work the helpers accomplish daily.
“The strain on them is enormous, and yet they have not wavered,” she said.
Director Angie Kane said rehearsing the play virtually has created its own challenges, in that she is a very physical director, and while she prefers to be in the same room as her actors, Zoom has become a reality for many of us.
“Using Zoom as a venue for live performance, while still keeping its energy and vibrancy brings its own challenges,” she said. “Emily’s piece touches on something we are all dealing with in some way, and Carrie is having no trouble at all connecting with it.”
Actress Carrie Jay Sayer said Kane’s directing is encouraging, insightful and empowering, and Rosenbaum’s play serves as an inspirational reminder to be gentle with ourselves.
“I believe anyone who is a parent, or who works in a helping profession, will relate to the internal battle to meet everyone’s needs, including your own,” she said. “Rosenbaum’s beautiful play serves as a reminder that it is not only acceptable, but crucial, to recharge your battery, and to be as kind and compassionate to yourself as you are with others.”
Sayer said when she plays a mom, she is in familiar territory.
“It plays not only to my strengths, but to my insecurities and struggles as a parent,” she said. “When I first read the play, I thought, this could be me.”
Sayer, a former social worker, said she still has strong feelings about social justice, and said helping others is important to her.
“My purpose in life is to help others be their best,” she said. “As a working mom, I ask myself every day if I am spending enough time with my family, and balancing their needs with mine.”
Artistic director Krista Schafer Ewbank said that seeing people stepping up to help others encourages one to not only think about those who need help, but to pay heed to the needs and sacrifices of the helpers.
“Seeing the people who are stepping in to help can give us hope and comfort, and motivates us to help, too,” she said.
“Home Less” runs in 10-minute time slots between 7 and 10 p.m. Thursdays and Mondays, Jan. 7, 11, 14, 18, 21 and 25, via Zoom. Tickets are $20, which reserves a time slot and a Zoom log-in link. A house manager virtually greets patrons and helps ensure online ease prior to each performance.
For more information, go to openbooktc.com.