And still those voices are calling from far away: “Zoo Motel”

Presented by ArtsEmerson
A play by Thaddeus Phillips
Cocreated and directed by Tatiana Mallarino
Designed by Steven Dufala
Magic by Steve Cuiffo
Night Clerk: Newton Buchanan

November 16—21, 2021
The final performances! A virtual event via Zoom
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AE Production Program featuring leadership team bios, a synopsis of the performance, and the full list of staff, artist and creative team credits for the production.

Originally presented via Miami Light Project Sept. 28 – Oct. 25, 2020. It is the longest running theatre play on the world wide web.

Review by Kitty Drexel

Virtual Boston, Mass — New England Theatre Geek reviewed Zoo Motel on October 14, 2020. The Quarantine was a dark time that produced some dark writing. Our ridiculously written review can be read here.

We were interested in seeing Zoo Motel again to see if it had updated since its 2020 run. Its creators have taken this show to audiences all over the world: Stockholm, Madrid, Perth, London, and now Boston. We can say that Zoo Motel still inspires wonder and awe.

ArtsEmerson sends all virtual ticket holders a link to the show a few hours before it begins. With the link is a reminder that Zoo Motel is participatory. Instructions for participation are provided. One should print out the PDF, have handy an unopened deck of cards, and a pen for notes. 

No one is obligated to participate.

We fully participated in 2020. We didn’t this year to see if there was a difference. There was; watching everyone else have fun wasn’t fun. The show is better when you prepare and participate. 

Differences between 2020 and 2021:

  • Less participation during the show: the viewer interacts with protagonist Thaddeus Phillips over Zoom less than in 2020. This doesn’t diminish the experience. It allows Philips and the viewer to focus more on the performance which requires intricate sleight-of-hand movements and great attention to detail. There are many moving parts, all of which Philips must manipulate himself without a tech person behind the scenes. The nature of Zoom, not unlike live performance, is chaotic. An unmuted viewer making live commentary could derail the performance. No one wants that. 
  • The performance is more nuanced. Zoom Motel combines such disparate places and things as the Voyager Golden Record, Malta, the Titanic, “Viva Las Vegas,” dinosaurs, and many, many others. Philips performs magic tricks and leads us on a journey of the mind. It has retained its essential parts from 2020 and has developed its ornamental elements. Zoo Motel is thoughtful and pretty. 
  • The post-show talkback was briefer. Philips is performing this version as a one-person-show. If you have questions for him, don’t hesitate to ask. Philips is generous with his answers. His time is precious. 

The essence of Zoo Motel remains the same. The Night Clerk (Newton Buchanan) welcomes everyone to the main Zoom room with a brief intro, some preliminaries, and a charming smile. We watch Philips check enter his hotel room. The adventure starts.

Zoo Motel is a truly unique theatre experience of music, magic, puppetry, quirky world history, and nostalgia for times when we could walk the world free from COVID fears. Philips, the Night Clerk and we are all confined to our personal Zoom spaces, but the production is about connecting despite and beyond these limits. 

We, the creative among us, are unlimited in how we can respond to constraints. Are we going to let them limit us? Or, will we decide to use them to set ourselves free? Freedom is only a Zoom call away. 

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