We had such a fun time last week performing Melissa Flores Anderson’s work with City Lights at their Next Stage show. Big thanks to Rebecca Wallace for sharing the recording of their show:
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit 2020, theaters around the world were forced to pivot to an online environment. Ever wondered how they do that? So did we. We sat down (virtually, of course) with the one and only Rebecca Wallace, marketing director of San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company, to go behind the scenes of a virtual show.
How does a virtual livestreamed event work at City Lights?
We host livestreams every Thursday night at 8 p.m. through our streaming and video series The Next Stage, which we started in April 2020. Our goal is to provide a virtual venue for as many artists in our community and beyond as we can: actors, writers, musicians, dancers, designers and, really, all other creative types.
While we sometimes have streamed via Twitch and Instagram, we primarily broadcast through Zoom or Facebook. Many musicians choose to perform concerts on City Lights’ Facebook page because they already have a following on that platform, and it’s an easy way to reach their current audience members and find new ones.
Other artists choose to have their events on Zoom, where I host the Zoom room, conduct artist interviews, and moderate an audience Q&A. The ambiance feels up-close, and we have lots of lively discussions. It feels like a great match for Play On Words.
Compared to a live in-person show, what’s different?
Nothing beats live theater when we’re all sharing the space and experience together, of course. But we have discovered some silver linings in the last year.
The intimacy of the Zoom room and the Facebook chat makes it comfortable for audience members to talk directly to artists, when they might feel shy about asking a question in aa regular talkback. This is especially nice when artists are debuting a new work and really want valuable feedback.
It’s also wonderful to bring people together across the miles. We’ve had several artists performing with City Lights from their homes in New York, and audience members watching and engaging from as far away as Finland. Casts of past City Lights shows have reunited and performed together again from afar.
The feeling is bittersweet because online theater wouldn’t be our first choice, but there have been moments of real theater magic.
The most moving for me was when actors Ivette Deltoro and Davied Morales reunited four years after their powerful 2016 performances in Lauren Gunderson’s play I and You, and did a scene once more. I got so choked up that afterward I could barely tell the actors how much it had meant to me. Well, also because I was still on mute. #blamethefeels
sound like fun? Join us on Thursday, May 13 to watch Melinda Marks perform “Not a Gardener” by Melissa Flores Anderson.
After a year of hibernation, Play On Words is finally emerging from the fog of the pandemic to share stories of our community. On June 17, we’ll return virtually to the San Jose Museum of Art for Our Stories, Ourselves, an evening of stories and poems inspired by individual and collective immigrant heritage. In the weeks to come, we’ll be offering a peek inside contributors’ brains to learn what their heritage means to them and what has kept them going this year.
We are delighted to start with Melissa Flores Anderson, a native Californian, award-winning journalist, former speechwriter and a current communications professional in Silicon Valley. She has had news articles and features published in the Gilroy Dispatch, the Hollister Free Lance, BenitoLink and the California Health Report, and was the city editor of the Weekend Pinnacle for seven years. She has a bachelor’s in psychology and media studies from Pitzer College, and a master’s in print journalism from the University of Southern California. Her story “Redemption Songs” is forthcoming in The Ice Colony.
Melissa’s story, “Not a Gardener,” follows Teresa, who doesn’t think she inherited a green thumb even though her grandfather maintained a thriving garden beyond his duplex for most of her life. When she moves into a new house with her husband and young son, Teresa discovers an affinity for it and a connection to her heritage.
There will be two opportunities to hear Melissa’s great story. On Thursday, May 13, Melinda Marks will perform this piece as part of City Lights Theatre Company’s Next Stage program, which will also feature a brief Q&A with POW co-founders and City Lights Marketing Director Rebecca Wallace. Register for this free event on the City Lights website.
Melissa agreed to answer a few questions in advance of our May 13 show.
How did you hear about Play On Words?
My friend Julia Halprin Jackson is one of the founders so I’ve heard her talking about Play On Words for years, and know some people who have had pieces featured in shows before. I’d been working on a story inspired by my grandfather when I learned the theme for the virtual show was immigrant heritage, and decided to submit for the first time.
How has your creative practice changed during the pandemic?
In a weird way the pandemic gave me space to be creative. I used to write stories and poems back in high school and college, but haven’t had the energy to write in the last decade or so. Then when I had insomnia over the summer because of the pandemic and the wildfires, I returned to some of my half-written stories in the middle of the night. A story I started maybe 15 years ago turned into the first draft of a novel. I worked on some other old stories and then started to be inspired with new ideas.
I’m back to sleeping at night, but I do some writing on my lunch break, in the evenings or on weekends.]
What does “immigrant heritage” mean to you?
Three of my grandparents moved to the United States as young children, two from Mexico and one from Italy. They came between 1910-1920 at a time when most people left behind their language and culture so there were only scraps of their heritage left for my sister and I by the time we came along. The one thing I do have is the family recipes—or impressions of flavors might be more accurate. My father’s mother never wrote down her tamale recipe and my mother’s sisters don’t have one for the gnocchi they make, but we have moments in the kitchen together when we make these dishes that tie us back to places we have never seen
What else should we know about you?
As I started to write again, I also started reading for leisure for the first time since having my son nearly four years ago. I’ve read plenty of board books and early readers in recent years, but in January I started making my way through a stack of books on my nightstand that followed me unread through two moves in three years. My favorites include Love by Roddy Doyle, Normal People by Sally Rooney and a short story collection curated by David Sedaris called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules.
join us june 17 for our stories, ourselves
Play On Words is going virtual with the San Jose Museum of Art at 7. p.m. on Thursday, June 17. Tickets are free but registration is required. Sign up to save your space!
We’re thrilled to announce that Play On Words has been invited to participate in City Lights Theatre Company’s Next Stage program at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 13. The free online event will feature POWSJ co-founder, casting director and actor extraordinaire Melinda Marks reading a piece selected from our upcoming June show, followed by a short Q&A with City Lights marketing director Rebecca Wallace, Melinda and co-founder and publicity director Julia Halprin Jackson.
The one and only Rebecca joins us today to answer a few questions about her pandemic arts experience.
tell us about the next stage program. How has it evolved during the pandemic?
The Next Stage is City Lights Theater Company’s weekly streaming & video series, with broadcasts every Thursday night at 8 p.m. on Zoom or Facebook. I host and curate the series, which highlights actors, writers, directors, musicians, designers, dancers and other artists.
When we premiered The Next Stage in April 2020, it was purely a performance series, in which the artists would design and run their own livestreams. Our first events were play readings, a dance class, and a singer giving a backyard concert. We had no idea if anyone would attend. It was a good surprise.
Soon I also started hosting interview shows. Before working for City Lights, I was a newspaper journalist, and it felt natural to bring that experience to a new medium. And It has been so much fun to interview talented people like scenic designer Ron Gasparinetti, Broadway actor James Monroe Iglehart, and costume designers Pat Tyler and Melissa Sanchez (a.k.a. The LIZZIE Dream Team).
City Lights is a huge supporter of our fellow art-makers in the South Bay, so it was also natural to start showing them off. We’ve hosted a virtual art class with the San Jose Museum of Art, highlighted Los Altos Stage Company’s amazing streaming season, and are planning shows with Veggielution and of course Play on Words.
Over time, we’ve also added better streaming software, cameras and lighting, and greater use of video. I’ve learned so much technology with the help of superstar City Lights consultant Ron Evans, who happens to be my husband. So that’s convenient.
what do you most miss about live theatre?
The energy in the room. The way even when an audience is completely silent, you can hear them listening. The smell of fresh wood on a new set. Intermission debates. Curtain speeches. That moment when an actor drops a line or a prop or another actor and keeps on going like nothing ever happened. Every single opening night I’ve ever attended.
what’s one positive thing that has come out of this past year?
The way our little City Lights family has only gotten closer.
what is your personal creative outlet?
Writing and singing of all kinds, knitting of the amateur kind, and creating slightly unsettling collage art. And of course I dream of getting back on stage again.
We hope you can join us and City Lights on May 13! Visit http://cltc.org/thenextstage/ to reserve your tickets. And stay tuned to learn more about the writer whose work Melinda will be performing!