Coming to a Yard Near You: Wilder Presents Socially-Distant Play Series

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

Elyzabeth Wilder said the arrival of COVID-19 brought with it a lot of unexpected challenges. She didn’t expect to be homeschooling her daughter and finishing the spring semester online. One of the challenges, though, has not been as unpleasant as the rest. Social distancing and feelings of isolation have pushed her to stretch her creative muscles.

She’s no stranger to putting pen to paper and letting words flow from her mind like water from a faucet. But she’s never tried to create in the middle of a pandemic before while also trying to navigate what it looks like to teach online and make sure her daughter finishes the school year strong.

Wilder, who is Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-Residence at Sewanee, said the last few months have been particularly challenging in regard to her creative work. Stories haven’t stopped needing to be told, and she hasn’t stopped telling them.

This weekend, Wilder will produce a micro-theatre series consisting of four monologues performed in backyards and on front porches by Mountain locals.

“There are four plays that will be performed in 15 minutes. I wrote each of the monologues for members of the community who were willing to perform them. There have been a couple of rehearsals via Zoom and one socially-distant, in-person rehearsal on Thursday, but this really came out of a desire to try to bring people back together,” she said.

“The Front Porch Plays” will be Friday, June 5 and Sunday, June 7, and Wilder said she and the actors will assume the role of a traveling actor’s troupe, moving from one “stage” to the next in between each of the five performances.

Based on the guidelines set by Governor Bill Lee, Wilder said there will be no more than 10 people at each performance, and everyone, excluding the actors, will be required to wear masks.

“A lot of thought has been put into how we can do this, serve the most people and also keep the community safe,” she said. “The theatre and arts communities are being challenged right now on how to bring people back together and how to do it safely. The gift that comes with this is that we are all required to think more outside the box and do what’s been done before using new parameters.”

The monologues will be read by the University’s associate professor of theatre, Jim Crawford; visiting professor of English, Virginia Craighill; associate professor of English, Lauryl Tucker; and Eliza Griffy who is a student at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School. Sewanee local Patton Watkins will play the guitar to provide music in moments of transition.

“I’ve really been impressed by how the theatre community has responded and has found interesting ways to still create connection and community during this time. It’s mostly happened online, so there have been a lot of Zoom readings of plays. Some theatres before they closed were able to record their plays and stream them online. Those have been really good solutions in this crisis, but they aren’t necessarily long-term solutions. Theatre is a communal event, and watching online does not give the same experience as watching with the people around you,” she said. “So we wanted to provide that.”