By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributor
The continued pandemic has continued to damper live theater, and theater companies have had to find new ways to keep audiences engaged while it is still unsafe for crowds to gather. For some theaters in Pittsburgh, film has stepped in to help out.
East Liberty-based Quantum Theatre will be debuting a film production of ‘Far Away,’ directed by Karla Boos and Joe Seamans.
Debuted in London in 2000, ‘Far Away’ is the work of renowned British playwright Caryl Churchill. Boos and Seamans were able to view the play the year it opened, and it left an indelible impression on them.
“I experienced the play as an audience member, and it was amazing and shocking to me,” said Boos. “We’d never seen anything like this.”
A short story at just 45 minutes in length, the play is broken into three sections, each focused on scenes in the life of a central character.
“Somehow, a world is built that you piece together over the course of the 45 minutes, and it leaves you with your mouth hanging open,” said Boos.
A trademark characteristic of ‘Far Away’ and much of Churchill’s work is a melding of surrealism with commentary on power structures within society–a quality that lends this 20 year old play a feeling of prescience.
“This play, that was written back then, feels like it was written today in America, because it’s about tribalism,” said Boos.
Churchill’s dreamlike, sometimes absurd writing style also imparts a timelessness to the work that makes it equally relevant to audiences in 2000 and 2021.
“It feels futuristic in some ways, how ‘The Hunger Games’ feels futuristic,” said Boos. “The title, ‘Far Away,’ and the design that it prompts, wants you to separate it from our present, but when you watch it…you feel like we’re on a knife edge from being in this world.”
Boos and Seamans decided that, while ‘Far Away’ is a perfect piece to produce in this time and place, they didn’t want to just film a stage production. They decided to merge Seamans’ background in documentary film with stage theater to create a short film version of the play.
This meant having to deal with both the requirements of the work itself, as well as how to film safely and artistically. One required aspect of the show is to assemble a plethora of resplendent hats, a challenge for any theater company even pre-pandemic.
“It’s a really difficult requirement for any production. Anybody who attempts ‘Far Away’ has to be able to make these hats,” said Boos. “In the time of COVID, we pulled that off with designers from all over the country sending amazing hats.”
Beyond assembling the many hats, putting the production together for filming in a pandemic-safe fashion was an undertaking in itself. Two of the three actors in the production, Lisa Velten Smith and Andrew William Smith, are a real-life couple, which helped ease the distancing requirements in the filming process, as the two are in the same pod. The actors were also tested every other day, and followed a number of other Screen Actors Guild rules to maintain maximum COVID safety.
Despite all these challenges, Boos and Seamans are excited to present ‘Far Away’ to audiences far and wide, and hope they leave thinking just a little different than before.
“The experience of the play isn’t a downer. It’s more like an explosion of your head in a way that’s tolerable, interesting and even kind of fun,” said Boos.
‘Far Away’ will be available for streaming online February 19 through March 7. For tickets and more information, visit quantumtheatre.com.