'Let's Design A Show That We Would Want To Watch': 'The Spin' Is A Play For The Videoconferencing Age
“I was thinking a lot about what theater would look like post-pandemic,” says writer/director Spenser Davis. “And I realized that there would be theaters that would probably want to do small casts [and] single unit sets. And for some reason the first idea was four spin doctors in a hotel room, and the mayor’s aide stops by to kind of get a briefing from them, kind of a crash course to avoid a controversy.”
That idea stayed with Davis, and when he was later approached by a Chicago theater to write a script for a streaming show, that spin doctor idea seemed like a natural fit – with a few changes. “And I said, ‘actually, I have this idea about a hotel room,’” David says. “’But if we switch the single location to a computer desktop, this might actually work really well for videoconferencing. And so we immediately dove into that.”
The Spin was produced by Chicago’s Interrobang Theatre Project last September, and now, more than six months later, the then-timely political-controversy-in-the-pandemic-age storyline is still extremely timely. This new, Austin-based production, from Street Corner Arts, is a little more ambitious than that first one – this time the play is being presented completely live for every performance, whereas the first run of the show was prerecorded.
Street Corner Arts company member Carlo Lorenzo Garcia has a small “cameo” role in The Spin, but his real job is behind the virtual scenes, coordinating the various streaming and conferencing apps that must run simultaneously to create the show. “We use three different platforms to actually present this show,” Garcia says. “Because the way that we wanted to present it to an audience was not like having them join a Zoom call. We want them to go the Street Corner Arts website, enter their password, and then they’ll be able to enter into the live stream. And what they’re going to be presented with is a view of [lead character] Deirdre Young’s desktop. So you’re kind of watching it as if Deirdre Young’s desktop is actually the stage, and all the browser windows and all the Zoom windows and all the other streaming apps that we’re using, all those windows are kind of moved around by the screen manager [Morgan Brochu], and you’re kind of watching it in real time.”
Shariba Rivers, who plays spin doctor Deirdre, says she enjoys playing the morally ambiguous character but would never want to spin for a living herself. “Spenser did a fantastic job laying [a lot of] complexities into this character. There’s definitely a balancing act that you have to play, and I would never want to do that in real life,” she says. “But it’s fun to play. It’s a lot of fun to play.”
“I, speaking of horrible people, play KC Pecarrero,” says Natalie Garcia with a laugh. “The client of the spin doctors who gets looped up with them to get ahead of the scandal and keep the mayor’s name out of everyone’s mouth. Again, Spenser did an amazing job [writing these characters]. And I also have to say that he’s very fortunate that Shariba and I have these characters in our hands, because we are able to lean into the multi-faceted, very layered women roles that he has written for us. It’s really a treat to find the parts of KC that I love… but then also get to play pretend as just this completely cutthroat woman.”
Davis says that creating a show centered around videoconferencing for an audience that might be suffering from Zoom fatigue was a unique challenge, but one that made the work better. “We’re all Zoom fatigued at this point, but I think what’s been so cool, and the cast has been so helpful with this… [is that] we know what we hate about Zoom, we know what we hate about videoconferencing. How do we design a show that combats that? If we’re our own harshest critics, let’s design a show that we would want to watch,” he says. “I have pretty high standards for these kind of things, especially when it comes to the hybrid of theater and film. But we’ve exceeded what I thought we could do.”
'The Spin' is streaming at StreetCornerArts.org through April 25.