Presented by Flat Earth Theatre
New plays by Sari Boren, Hortense Gerardo, Gabriel Graetz, MJ Halberstadt, Michal Lin, Cliff Odle, Kelly Smith
Directed by Jessica Ernst, David R. Gammons, Lee Mikeska Gardner, Shira Helena Gitlin, Johnny Nichols, Jr., Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez, LaToya T. Robinson
“Prospero” by Amy Lehrmitt; directed by Lindsay Eagle; performed by Juliet Bowler.
Aesthetics Designs by Michael Clark Wonson
Sound by Kyle Lampe
Costumes by Zane Kealey
Props & special effects by S Ayala
Showrunner: Amy Lehrmitt
Dramaturgy by Betsy Goldman
Full cast of actors: Sydney Roslin, Kira Helper, Kristen Heider, Michael Lin, Sharmarke Yusuf, Shanelle Villegas, Kalee Burrows, Olivia Dumaine, Naomi Ibasitas, Evan Turissini, Jo Michael Rezes, Blair Nodelman, Lorraine Kanyike, and Miles Wheeler II.
Accessibility Notes: This online event offers captioning. Instructions are available before, and during the live-stream.
Review by Kitty Drexel
Content Warnings: Blood, strong language, abuse of white privilege, mentions of cannibalism
ZOOM — Flat Earth Theatre’s 7 Rooms: The Masque of the Red Death is a massive undertaking of considerably wide and deep proportions that will impress even the most nihilistic of digital theatre naysayers. 7 Rooms will tantalize; it’ll tease; it’ll entreat you to shake your booty.
Running July 28 – August 15, audience members are invited to attend a party at Prospero’s (Juliet Bowler) extravagant mansion. There’s no need to rabble rouse with dirty plebes sick with the plague. Not when there’s a fancy ball to attend!
Zoom attendees will heave their coats at the underappreciated event staff in the purple room (Michael Lin, Kristen Heider), grab a drink and investigate the party’s many festive rooms.
Each room is arranged by color. You can listen to some music in the blue room (Sydney Roslin, Kira Sarai Helper), take a swim in the violet room (Jo Michael Rezes, Blair Nodelman), or reminisce in the orange room with friends (Olivia Dumaine, Naomi Ibasitas, Evan Turissini).
Never mind the security keeping the mansion safe in the green room (Sharmarke Yusuf, Shanelle C Villegas, Kalee Burrows). Attendees should explore as they wish. There are more bathrooms down the hall if an Influencer is shooting a tutorial in the one closest to you (Lorraine Kanyike).
Whatever you do, don’t go into the basement. That’s reserved for a private party, special written-in-blood-invitation only (Miles Wheeler II).
What do you mean, what’s that noise? There’s lots of noise. It’s a party! If we’re lucky, maybe everyone will survive.
What to Expect: When audience members first arrive at the Zoom performance, they will be held in a waiting room until the Zoom host lets them into the main room. There are jaunty tunes to listen to and a rotation of slides projected into the main Zoom room to ready viewers for the performance: keep your microphone and camera off. Transcription is available. You will be notified by the event manager when the breakout rooms are available. Please donate.
When the time comes, attendees choose which room they’d like to attend out of the main Zoom room. A poll pops up. Your selection automatically deposits you into your room. The option to change rooms remains open for a while should an attendee change their mind.
In the room you select, you will watch a vignette, a mini-play by one of the playwright/director teams advertised on the 7 Rooms website. Some of the vignettes are live, some are recorded. Fear not the FOMO! 7 Rooms production’s design allows all attendees to watch the events of each room regardless of which one chooses first.
The chat is open but it is not intended for audience members’ use. It is to seek assistance with the show only. There are shows that encourage chatbox use to maintain a running dialogue with the cast. This is not one of those shows. Prospero seems like the kind that would laugh at you for suggesting it. You only have as much control as Prospero wills.
Flat Earth calls 7 Rooms “a radically collaborative virtual theatre experience.” They’re right. 7 Rooms transcends Zoom theatre into science fiction-light territory. It isn’t recreating the live-theatre experience; it’s creating a brand new experience. Some of this is accomplished via the clever use of empty buildings, abandoned costume departments, and an unused elevator. Other elements seem like they require octopus arms to press multiple buttons to achieve magical cohesion across platforms and laptops. Tech rehearsal must have been a nightmare.
The sheer amount of human beings involved in this production is shocking, especially when one takes into account how little any of them interacted in-person over the process of its creation. That’s a lot of humans to wrangle, timing to perfect, and internet-connection gods to pray to. And yet, Flat Earth did it. They made it look easy too.
Stage managers are the unsung heroes of any theatre production. I’m assuming that five stage managers on staff for 7 Rooms accomplished minor – and likely a few major – miracles. They deserve extra special recognition for their accomplishments in this show. Perhaps drinking champagne out of a shoe is in order.
Even if Poe-inspired horror theatre isn’t your idea of fun, 7 Rooms may still appeal. This production creates its own reality and invites its audience to stay awhile, to forget the outside world: factually and figuratively.
When I wasn’t forgetting that I wasn’t in the room with the actors, I was forgetting that some of the acting was live. The cast and crew made it possible to forget where I was, wrap myself in color-coded drama, and escape into the show through a laptop screen.
I abhor horror movies – watching others hurt and get hurt holds no appeal for me (except the 1%, which should be eaten)- but 7 Rooms was fun. It is thoughtful, inventive and even has a few celebratory moments. 7 Rooms isn’t killing people; it’s creating community.
Fifteen actors, seven directors, seven playwrights, five stage managers, and a small village of creative crew made 7 Rooms possible. When you enjoy it (and you will) please make a donation to Flat Earth Theatre in addition to procuring your pay-what-you-can ticket. Making a generous donation now means Flat Earth can exist later when we attend performances without social-distancing again.
Edited on 8/3/2021: post edited to add additional crew to the credits section