Originally published in Equity News.
When tragedy strikes, everyone responds individually. For Equity member Blair Baker and Zac Kline, co-Artistic Directors of Missing Bolts Productions, their response to the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., last June was to make art. “You have this urge to do something as an artist,” Baker told Equity News in December, “but you can feel, ‘What can I do as an actor?’”
Realizing her emotional state in the wake of the Orlando shooting mirrored that of the character she had played in Caridad Svich’s The Hour of All Things, Baker suggested reaching out to Svich to get to work on some kind of artistic response. Kline had previously collaborated with Svich in creating 24 Gun Control Plays in 2013. “It started from a place of deep urgency to want to do the project,” Kline explained, “but also from Blair’s incredible passion balanced with my efficiency.”
They initially contacted about two-dozen playwrights asking for three-minute plays addressing any aspect of the tragedy. Kline had learned from the 24 Gun Control Plays that a call for five-minute plays resulted in ten-minute plays; they hoped the call for three-minute plays might produce the desired result. “We got some really wonderful responses from folks saying, ‘Three minutes? I can’t do three minutes!’” Kline said. But once the writers got to work, they found their way into the form. “When you distill it down to a construct like that, it creates something really wonderful.” The result is a stylistic mix ranging from open-text pieces to choral poems to traditional one- to two-person scenes.
The writers themselves were similarly diverse, including Latinx, gay and trans writers, as well as writers from a broad geographical area—including 10 playwrights from Orlando. And that initial list of two dozen playwrights grew to over 80 by the time all was said and done. “It’s a combination of folks we invited and others who, along the way at various readings, have happened to connect with us,” Kline explained.
The process of getting from page to stage began just as the call to playwrights went out. As soon as the initial press release about readings to be held in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Orlando was published, Baker and Kline were flooded with inquiries from around the globe.
“That became the impetus for us to use Caridad’s resources, cold-calling people and connecting with friends along the way,” Kline said. “As folks contacted us, we were reaching out to the world saying, ‘OK, we have a reading in Illinois; we need to have one in Missouri. There’s a wonderful queer playwright and activist, Joan Lipkin, in St. Louis. Let’s talk to Joan.’ And Joan’s making a reading happen. It’s been snowballing like that. We’ve been keeping our eye on geographical diversity. New York is our artistic home; New York is very important to us, and it’s important for a number of reasons that these plays are heard in New York. But it’s equally important that these plays are heard in Los Angeles, and it’s equally important that these plays were heard at Peru State College in Peru, Nebraska.”
In New York, Missing Bolts partnered with Daryl Roth Productions, which had previous experience presenting benefit productions such as Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Beyond providing space at the DR2 Theatre, Roth’s general management team was able to handle making arrangements with Theatre Authority.
Through the generosity of Equity members and the participating playwrights, companies around the United States were allowed to perform After Orlando royalty-free between Sept. 12 and Jan. 31, provided that all events were either free of charge or any ticket sales went directly either to one of the funds designated to help victims in Orlando or a local LGBTQI+ organization. It was important to Baker and Kline that this community-based project allow participating companies to partner with local community organizations rather than lock them into donating to a central fund.
After Orlando is part of a larger trend; similar national theatrical responses to police brutality and voter suppression have been produced recently. Seeing this kind of activist theatre on the rise, the duo offered some advice to those who might want to put together projects of their own. “I think you have to move quickly,” said Blair. “Unfortunately, tragedy occurs and you want to mourn, but the national consciousness moves too fast.”
Kline added, “Democracy is so important in this type of project. You don’t do this alone. You don’t make any theatre alone. It’s also important to remember there’s room for it, if you believe in it.”
“Trust that the words of the play are enough to have an impact,” Blair said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect—it just has to be out there.”
What is Theatre Authority?
Theatre Authority is an independent nonprofit organization made up of representatives from all the performing unions that vet benefit performances before union members donate their time. Theatre Authority ensures not only that the money raised is indeed going to the stated charitable purposes, but also insures volunteer performers in the event of an accident, since workers’ compensation does not apply to volunteer situations. Although it is often benefit producers who file Theatre Authority requests, it is incumbent upon union members themselves to either work on a contract or know that a code or waiver is in place.
This year, Theatre Authority has seen 126 union members take part in a dozen benefits for Orlando, raising over $175,000, from the Broadway company of Fun Home’s wildly successful concert at the Philips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando last July, to more modest efforts from theater companies around the country such as Boston Theater Company’s August benefit and, of course, numerous efforts from the greater Orlando area’s theatre community.
Photo: Philadelphia Theatre Company & University of the Arts presents a reading of After Orlando, featuring Equity members, to help the victims of the Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub. Photo by Eve Zausner.