Laughter will stream on-demand beginning June 11, when the Players Guild of Dearborn offers a filmed version of the stage comedy “Is This Seat Taken?” written by Brian Townsend of Dearborn.
The show, which debuted in 1995, with additional productions in 1998 and 2008, features a series of rapid-fire bar scenes, where phrases like, “The usual, please,” “Bottoms up,” and “What’s your sign?” accompany a series of first drinks, first dates, fancy cocktails, bad pickup lines, relentless romantics, awkward dancing and more.
While one may recognize the encounters and chuckle in recognition, Townsend, who directs the show, said he serves up some surprises, as well.
The ensemble cast includes Kori Bielaniec of Westland; Madeleine Bien of Southfield; Julie Ballantyne Brown and Alex Gojkov, both of Dearborn; Stephen Sedore of Plymouth and Tom Varitek of Dexter.
Auditions and a significant number of rehearsals occurred virtually, via Zoom.
Townsend said that while online interaction worked well for character and technical discussions, and cut down on cast commute time, it made it challenging to explore the physical movement of the characters.
“When we were able to meet in person, the show took on a new life, because we were no longer confined by a window on a computer screen,” he said. “I’m usually an ‘on-the-floor’ director – I like to be moving about with the actors, relaying blocking, character thoughts and suggestions on the stage with them, then moving back to watch them run it on their own.”
Townsend said he enjoys the give-and-take of in-person directing, and the first day that they rehearsed in person, on stage was euphoric.
“It was what we’d all been hoping for, and yet, it felt strange to be there after all this time,” he said. “The past year was different, difficult and strange, and it was nice to have a show to focus on and to allow that creativity and camaraderie to bloom again.”
As live rehearsals progressed, Townsend said the cast missed have people in the house, watching and responding with laughter.
“We miss that connection between actors and audience,” he said. “It is one of the things that makes theater theatre.”
Townsend said that as rehearsals began for “Is This Seat Taken?” he updated the script and added new material.
“I revised some scenes, dropped some others, wrote new ones and brought some elements up to date,” he said. “The cast were great at sharing thoughts, and sometimes their ad-libbed lines became part of the script.”
Townsend said he is grateful that the Players Guild of Dearborn provided him with an opportunity to bring the show to the stage again.
“Working on an original play is always a path of discovery,” he said. “I am not sure what will come next in terms of new material. I lean toward comedy, because I enjoy hearing and making people laugh.”
Townsend said he is always jotting down ideas for future shows.
“The arts have always been a reflection of the times,” he said. “Some people have said a COVID-themed show might be cathartic; others have said to leave it alone.
“It has been a long year, and a diversion might feel better. In any event, I’ll keep writing.”
Townsend said putting on a show during a pandemic was interesting, and he staged it with social distancing in mind.
“When we were first rehearsing in person, everyone was masked and distant,” he said. “Our producers wiped things down, and disinfected everything, from seats and props, to door handles and light switches.”
Townsend said everyone in the cast and crew was able to be vaccinated during the rehearsal process, and they entered tech week with everyone fully vaccinated and with the 14-day waiting period past, which allowed them to rehearse and perform onstage without masks on.
“It started to feel like real life again,” he said. “Getting the chance to see their facial expressions, to hear their true voices, and to see them interact made a world of difference.”
Townsend said that while the Players Guild will continue to follow safety protocols, there is a feeling of optimism among its members.
“I think the feeling now is hopeful and excited, but not without an eye for continued planning and safety,” he said. “But hopeful, nevertheless.”
For more information about streaming “Is This Seat Taken?” go to playersguildofdearborn.org.