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Plague Diary - Mara Mills and Nellie O'Brien


Mara Mills

Mara Mills

One of the best things about theater is the collaboration of between director and actor to bring character and plot alive.

And, essentially, that relationship is changed with Zoom. While we started looking at the piece theatrically, a play in five scenes, ultimately, Nellie, took on the acting, site directing, set, and costume choices. The hardest thing, as Nellie said, is doing this without lights and rehearsal time in real time, in a real space.  Zoom does not make it easy to dig into the words, find the  perfect pause, the genuine gesture that expresses the subtext. But, Nellie O’Brien is a wonderful collaborator, as well as actor and director, and she made it work.

Besides content, one of the goals of Climbing the Walls was to interact with virtual mediums, like Zoom and evaluate strengths and weaknesses. We wanted to figure out how to translate theater's process and  collaboration and to find an alternative to the intimate relationship between a live audience and a technical medium. Nellie’s statement says it all, "frustrating, yet exhilarating."

Plague Diary is dedicated to Nell Gwyn, one of the first women to go on stage in Restoration England, known for her  quick wit and her “britches roles”. Nell lived through the Bubonic plague when theaters were closed and people, who could afford it, left London and went  to live in  the country. Sound familiar? April 30, 1665: “Great fears of the Sickenesse here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.” Samuel Pepys.

N.B. Road Trip by Ed Friedman, up this week, also began as a Zoom experiment, specifically writing with Zoom in mind.


Nellie O'Brien

Nellie O'Brien

This was an interesting endeavor for me on many fronts.

When Mara first sent me the diary, I was characteristically impressed.  The words; the entries are so simple and straight forward but - like the sauce cooking on the stove - you can sense something powerful simmering underneath.

Mara and I had a Zoom meeting just to do a quick read through and we both were immediately affected by the possibilities.  I read all the entries straight through, looking at the script of course, and we recorded it.  Easy.  Immediate.  Almost profound.

Yes, let's do it!

But it was not easy after all.  Or immediate (sorry for all the delays, Mara!).  It was profoundly challenging. Without a director or cameraperson present at the recordings and with no decent lighting or equipment, I was floundering.

Although shut in and locked down, managing life in the new abnormal had me busier than ever - dealing with maddening bureaucracy, vendors, bill deferments; trying to reinvent myself and my business to be relevant in unprecedented times; feeling obligated to zoom and facetime weekly with beloved people I'd normally have seen only a handful of times a year; trying to make sense of the reams of constantly changing and ever more politicizing pandemic information was exhausting and days were flying by.  I felt as if I had a full time job - with overtime - that I hated, was terrible at and wasn't getting any compensation for.

There was scant opportunity to attend to what I love and cherish - the chance to explore this text, memorize lines, properly rehearse.  And, in our early excitement about putting the diary together, we decided to do each "day" separately, from different parts of the kitchen; outside a window; on the street in the dark which added unexpected logistical challenges.

Trying to set up a shot - via the Zoom platform - and then continually starting and stopping the computer was supremely frustrating.  With every "take" - even just a flubbed line - the zoom recording had to be halted, the entire meeting had to be ended and each video had to convert and be saved and deposited into documents before the next attempt.  It took hours and momentum was aborted with each and every try.  I'm sure there's an easier way but I was working with what I had and what I knew.  Once in a blue moon, I was actually able to send some videos to Mara for her much needed and much appreciated feedback but we were unable to do that in real time.  I can only imagine her frustration as director and writer. Yet, throughout the process, she was calm, thoughtful, encouraging and brimming with good advice and constructive critique.

I tried to strategically place my iPad so that I could refer to my lines with some epic fails and I was determined to get every one of the author's chosen words.

And, all this while what we were trying to portray was actually still going on all around us.  Is this too soon?, I often wondered.  Am I too close to this calamity?  Am I just too distracted to bring Plague Diary to anything close to the life it deserves?  Probably.


You Might as Well- Bara Swain

Artistic Statement

Bara Swain

As a writer, I oftentimes reveal that I have no ideas for my next piece.  That sounds impossible, I know.  Most of my work is in response to calls for submissions. This monologue was conceived when I didn’t follow directions for one of those submission calls.


Bara Swain’s plays and film adaptations have been performed in 150+ venues in 25 states and abroad (Australia, Canada, UAE, Ireland). NYC theatres include the Barrow Group, Abingdon, Urban Stages, Sam French OOB, Project Y, Athena Theatre, NY Madness, Articulate, and Ego Actus. Recent: Turn! Turn! Turn! (Short+Sweet Sydney), The Wonder of You (Barrow Group, NYC), and CHOOSE! (Artistic New Directions, NYC).  Bara serves as the Creative Consultant at Urban Stages.


The Plea - Edward D. Currelley

Artistic Statement

Edward D. Currelley

Artist statement is simple, a request of all fellow artist to create and spread as much love with the gifts we have been given during these terrible and fearful times of unrest.


Edward D. Currelley, author and artist, is widely anthologized. Publications include but are not limited to 2018 HVCCA (MOCA) anthology,” Between I &Thou”, 2019 Hudson Valley MOCA anthology “Death is Irrelevant”; Mom Egg Review; Dove Tales International Journal of the Arts “Empathy in Art, Embracing the Other” 2018 published by Writing for Peace & Colgate University Research Council. Dove Tales Online anthology “One World; One People”2019published by Writing for Peace. Sling Magazine, and Metaphor Magazine #5. He is also a contributor to the online publication The Peace Correspondent. His poem “I America” appears in Split This Rock, as part of their Poems of Resistance, Power & Resilience. He is also a Push Cart Prize Nominee and has authored two children’s books. He holds a seat on the board of directors for Poets Network & Exchange, Inc. and The Bronx Book Fair. He is listed with Poets& Writers as an American poet and author.



Poets & Writer Directory:

Road Trip - Ed Friedman

Artistic Statement

Ed Friedman, Collage by Lisa Curran

If we’re trying to write now for the theatre, are we writing for what theatre is now or sometime in the (hopefully not too distant) future? Why can’t we do both? Right now, we have screens and people on screens, so let’s write for them.


Ed’s short plays have been staged throughout the NY metropolitan area and around the country. His monologues are contained in the anthologies of Mother/Daughter Monologues: MidLife Catharsis and Urgent Maturity published by the International Centre for Women Playwrights. His monologue from Secret Dreamers was included in Best Women’s Monologues of 2019 published by Smith & Krauss. His anthology Short Plays for Long Lives is published by Blue Moon Publishing.


Click here to follow Ed on Facebook!

Today, I Buried My Mother - Katori Walker

Artistic Statement

Katori Walker

A young woman tragically lost her mother to COVID-19 and all she has left are her memories.

It is my hope that the viewer will be influenced by a feeling of nostalgia from the poetry that is weaved into a drama, captured with pictures and an under lying eeriness of fleeting magic.

As a performer and artist, I created this piece to send a message to people to adjust their lifestyle to be safer and healthier in order to protect them from having the same experience of suffering the loss of people they love to this dreadful pandemic.

Katori's Instagram: @walkerkatori

Love in the Time of Corona - Marjorie Conn

Artistic Statement

Marjorie Conn

Marjorie Conn (Actor/Playwright/Storyteller/Ventriloquist) made her acting debut with the late, great Ethyl Eichelberger as his leading man, playing Aegisthus to his Klytemnestra with her lover, the late, incomparable Katy Dierlam as Electra. She was given an award by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for her contributions to theatre in Provincetown, MA. Marjorie is most known for her portrayal of Lizzie Borden (ax murderess) and Lorena Hickok (Eleanor Roosevelt's lover). These plays, which she wrote, are published in LOST LESBIAN LIVES. She founded the Provincetown Fringe Festival in 1994, which relocated to Asbury Park, NJ in 2007. One of her stories is scheduled for publication in WMN zine: Show Me What You Got at the end of May. Currently she is a full-time New Yorker living in Hell's Kitchen with a plethora of rescue animals.


Studio Theater in Exile

“Theatre takes place all the time wherever one is, and art simply facilitates persuading us this is the case”

- John Cage