With the pandemic turning lives into a never-ending stream of Zoom connections, the Open Book Theatre Company examines the odds of forging a human bond online during its final one-to-one virtual theater event, “Making New Friends During the Zombie Apocalypse.”
Written for OBTC by Michigan playwright Joseph Zettelmaier, the play reflects the present without being about the pandemic.
In the production, Julia Garlotte plays Tessa, a woman in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who is trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. She decides to travel south in search of warmer weather, and when she stops at an abandoned house to forage for supplies, she discovers a computer with an open video chat feed, and decides to attempt to make a human connection.
OBTC artistic director Krista Schafer Ewbank said most of us have become accustomed to video conferencing during the past year, whether for business or to connect with friends and family.
“It’s not hard to imagine feeling completely alone in this world, and trying to make a connection with someone through a computer,” she said. “That’s exactly what happens in ‘Making New Friends During the Zombie Apocalypse.’”
Zettlmaier said he has wanted to write a show for OBTC, and this play builds on the theme that people are not alone even when they are physically separated.
“I like riffing on themes that resonate with the times we currently live in, but I had the urge to explore them without directly referencing COVID,” he said. “At the end of the day, I like plays about human connection, even if there is only a single actor onstage.”
Zettelmaier said one of his biggest challenges was writing for someone speaking to the audience without it coming across as someone breaking the fourth wall.
“I wanted it to still feel like the audience was on the outside looking in,” he said. “But the basic ideas of arc and conflict, objectives and obstacles are still there.”
Zettelmaier said that while he is a fan of the horror genre, and has written a few horror-themed plays, “Making New Friends During the Zombie Apocalypse” is not a horror show.
Garlotte said she is looking forward to doing one to one virtual theater, as well as a new play by Zettelmaier.
“I love that I have another chance to tell one of his stories,” she said. “This is a very different kind of theater than anything I have done before, and I am looking forward to the experience.”
Garlotte said she believes the need for human connection will click with audiences.
“I can certainly relate with a lot of Tessa’s dialogue, even if our circumstances are wildly different,” she said. “This piece is about finding connection with other human beings, with which a lot of our audience members will identify these days.”
Ewbank said this is the sixth and final play in OBTC’s one-to-one season, which replaced its traditional, five-show in-person season.
“We are looking hopefully at the fall to return to having audiences in the theater,” she said. “We will see. It has been a year of learning to be incredibly flexible.”
Ewbank said OBTC is planning to offer another summer of Driveway Theater.
“That was so much fun, and very popular,” she said. “Driveway Theater is likely to become a staple of the theater we offer through Open Book.”
Ewbank said the OBTC team has learned a lot from the one-to-one virtual theater process.
“We may be incorporating some elements into our work even when we return to in-person programming,” she said.
Each 10-minute Zoom performance is performed in real time for a singular audience, on Mondays and Thursdays through March 22.
Tickets to “Making New Friends During the Zombie Apocalypse” are $20, and include a Zoom link and a pre-show connection with a virtual house manager before the performance begins. For more information, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.