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Playwright Christopher Chen on Communion

Livian Yeh June 16

Christopher Chen

What was the inspiration behind Communion?

It started very simply: Pam asked if I could be inspired to write a one-person show for them for Zoom that had some element of audience interaction. Wanting to work with Pam and A.C.T., I said I’d take the challenge. I’ve always been very interested in form—finding ways to have form match content—so the play quickly became about the very nature of the technology platform that carried it. Or, more accurately, the nature of how it’s being used: to form communion in this time of separation. As limited as its results may be.

 

What has the writing process been like? What was it like to write a play for Zoom?

The writing process was completely collaborative. From the initial prompt from Pam, to A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald pitching Zoom magic shows as inspiration. Then Pam and dramaturg Joy Meads brought forth the idea of reaching out to Stacy Ross and leaning into her theater history in San Francisco. Joy led a conversation in which Stacy regaled us with personal stories that ultimately made it into the final script. So in other words, with this project I almost felt like I was channeling other people as much as my own voice—in keeping with the theme of the play itself!

I actually really loved writing this play for Zoom, which has a kind of intimacy to it that allowed me to stretch my writing wings in ways I often can’t do in theater. I felt I could really dig into trying to capture these really natural and subtle rhythms of speech and behavior that are sometimes not possible on the big stage; and then, getting to have someone like Stacy (a Bay Area idol to me) breathe life into it, was truly thrilling, and was an invitation to keep pushing the nuances, pushing the naturalism even further.

 

What do you hope the audience will take away from Communion?

I hope they come away with a sense of possibility—the possibility of using this post pandemic phase to connect with more people, and overcome seemingly intractable challenges to do so. 

 

Theater has been virtual for over a year—have you learned anything new about theater making during this time? Anything you’ll carry over when you’re back in the physical rehearsal room again? 

This year has been an interesting reset for me in terms of theater. With the business side of things on pause (for me anyway, I’m sure that’s not the case for others!), I absorbed this communal energy of “let’s just do the best we can do.” It was refreshing in its own way. And so when I finally, belatedly, got down to writing my own pandemic Zoom play, I took on a more “doing the best I can do” attitude. As a result, I felt my writing was more loose and free, and even more direct and sincere. I also brought in a much more communal energy into my process. I would love to carry all of these things with me into the post-pandemic theater world.