After the governor’s order last year shut down theaters on the first performance night of her company’s newest production, Amy Poisson went to the woods to figure things out.
Thinking about the many crises facing the world — the pandemic, racism, sexism, to name just a few — she was haunted by the question, “How did we get here?” That question became the prompt for a new theatrical series that would carry Macha Theatre Works through the pandemic.
This year, Macha Theatre Works will continue the series, 17 Minute Stories, beginning with Pearl Lam’s “Dear LSD Fairy.” The performance will be livestreamed on, appropriately, Sept. 17. Three different stories will follow on Oct. 15, Oct. 29 and Nov. 12. As they were last year, each 17-minute-long show will be performed only once in an empty theater and livestreamed to an at-home audience. A chat on YouTube will serve as a “lobby” where guests can interact.
Last year, Macha produced 17 stories in the series despite never having produced livestreamed or recorded theater before.
“We’re going to do it again because it’s still a pandemic and also, we love making them. We love supporting women in writing the stories they want to write,” said Poisson, Macha Theatre Works’ producing artistic director. The 17-minute length resulted from Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming,” in which she notes her own famous speech in 2008 and Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech in 2004 were each 17 minutes long.
“I decided Michelle Obama was talking to me,” Poisson said. The format of a livestreamed one-woman show evolved from the combination of pandemic protocols and the desire to re-create a dynamic live theater experience.
“Our mission is to put strong female characters on stage,” said Poisson. “Our company ethos is to give opportunities for women to grow their careers and put forward women’s voices.” From relative newcomer Lam to Valerie Curtis-Newton, who is head of directing at the University of Washington School of Drama, the four women featured this fall have created stories that are deeply personal but also diverse in subject matter and tone. Each commissioned work asks the question: “How did I get here?”
“We needed some fun and zany humor to kick off our season because it’s just been so dark in the world,” said Poisson. In “Dear LSD Fairy,” Lam deals with mental health in a comedic way that is both absurdist and abstract. In “Thicc Girl Problems (Eating My Feelings)” on Oct. 15, Jasmine Lomax treats viewers like confidantes as she dissects body-image issues. “My Three Closets (Or Surviving the Avalanche)” on Oct. 29 is Curtis-Newton’s first public telling of her coming-out story as a queer, Black, Christian woman. Alyssa Keene’s “Resistance: A Love Story” explores resistance through the true story of the French locals who hid her grandfather from Nazis when his plane was shot down in World War II.
This fall’s 17 Minute Stories will all remain virtual.
“Sitting there being nervous about whether the person beside you has COVID really puts the damper on the magic of the shared experience of live theater,” said Poisson. She added, “There’s something really intimate about one-woman shows on camera. I think the actors are allowed to be even more vulnerable.”
Although they will be performed only once, after the run, Macha will bundle all four stories for on-demand viewing as they have done for previous 17 Minute Stories, which are still available. There are tentative plans for outdoor performances this winter of more 17 Minute Stories that are still in production. Macha hopes to bring “The Fifth Wave,” the production that was canceled in March 2020, to in-person audiences in February.