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Local theater group tells ‘Pandemic Stories’

Seven short plays about love, life and loss in America today.

A still frame from the 2nd Act Players production.

There are two things which impact absolutely everybody, the weather, and the coronavirus pandemic.

The weather is nothing new, but COVID-19, while it seems like it’s been here forever, has only been around for 13 months.

“We like to do plays that are about current events,” says John Frank, founder and director of Evanston’s 2nd Act Players. And so, starting Friday through May 2, 2nd Act presents “Pandemic Stories, seven short plays about love, life and loss” in the era of masks, hand sanitizer and hospital ventilator counts.

“I felt it was the overwhelming issue for everyone this year,” Frank says. “It’s affected everyone’s lives. We couldn’t ignore it.”

In keeping with COVID rules and reality, the plays are on Zoom. But Frank has incorporated a “green screen” background (the same thing your tv weather forecaster uses) as well as creative editing, so it looks like two people who recorded their scenes at home separately are actually in the same room together.

When 2nd Act says “short plays,” they mean it. Each one is no longer than 20 minutes, but each is also a winner of the theater group’s writing competition.

“Online, shorter is better” for plays, Frank says. Three are dramas and four are comedies. All seven are presented each night. The whole performance lasts about 90 minutes.

Keeping 2nd Act going through the pandemic has been more drama than humor. As with other performing arts groups in Evanston and elsewhere, COVID restrictions have made in-person performing impossible. 2nd Act’s revenues fell 60 percent. But expenses were cut more. 2nd Act should come out of the pandemic financially OK, or as financially OK as a small group which normally performs in a 60-seat theater in a church (Northminster Presbyterian) but has been doing all its shows on Zoom since July can be.

Frank started 2nd Act eight years ago as a “labor of love.” It was a chance for storytellers to ply their craft. Annual ticket sales are under $10,000. No one is getting rich.

But still, Frank is looking forward to shaping 2nd Act’s future, “what we want to be coming out of the pandemic.”

It’s a juggling act to be sure. Frank would like the theater group to play a larger venue, but finding the money is a grant-writing, new sponsor-searching challenge.

Plus, there’s the question of when the pandemic no longer scares off customers, even if the theater does open in person. “We may need to wait ’til the very end and people are not afraid” to sit next to a stranger in a theater, Frank says.

Still, the plan is that whenever in-person shows resume, the first play will be a comedy because “people need to laugh.”

And whenever there is an audience watching from the seats, Frank says, “it’s going to be really nice” to hear applause once again.

More information about “Pandemic Stories,” is available online.

keywords » COVID-19

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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