George Romero thought that, when she finished working on her latest theater project, she would take a month or so before starting a new show.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Romero said, laughing. “I said I wanted a break, and boy, did we get a break.”
Romero produced the original play “Reflections,” which was presented the first weekend in March. The next weekend concerns about the spread of COVID-19 prompted all performing arts groups in Tulsa, and throughout the country, to shut down.
“It was a real gut punch,” Romero said. “And after about a month of lockdown, I noted that I was feeling anxious and powerless and that I was feeling angry that I felt this way.
“One of the things I find most fulfilling is helping to develop new voices,” she said. “And I had noticed how people where starting to do staged readings (on social media platforms). So I started trying to think of ways of making use of different formats and different limitations to create new theater works.”
Romero approached a number of local actors, writers, directors and technical crew members about participating in what has become the Blackjack Rewrite Company, a new theater company that will present its first shows Sunday via livestreaming on Facebook.
The production is made up of four plays, which will be presented in a multimedia format, incorporating live performances at the American Theatre Company’s Studio 308 space, livestreamed remote performances and pre-filmed segments.
“We want art to be accessible and feel inviting to everyone,” Romero said.
It will be free to watch the performances, which will be presented at 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday, July 12, but donations will be accepted.
“Our motto is ‘Reinvent, Reinvigorate, Reinvest,’ ” Romero said. “All donations will go toward paying the artists involved and to cover production costs.”
Romero said all rehearsals have been done online — “Safety is very important because life comes first” — and that the live performances will be staged in such a way to comply with social distancing requirements.
“It will be a very small group of people in a very large space,” she said.
The plays all deal in some way with ideas and issues associated with today’s social and political upheaval.
Shadia Dahlal’s “2044” is about the aftermath of a civil war in America, as a group of defeated white nationalists have retreated to the back country to hide from rogue bounty hunters.
“People of color see racists and those who support the current administration as monsters,” Dahlal said. “What happens when the power shifts? Who becomes the monsters then?”
Dahlal said her inspiration was an overload of information from news reports and social media.
“I told my husband that my only relief came from sleep,” she said. “Then I heard a woman on the radio say how the current situation ... made her wish she could just sleep through the entire year. That’s what inspired me to write a fantasy about a man who finds himself in a temporary coma as a way to get relief from 2020.”
Bailey James described her play, “Exploits,” as the story of two co-workers who work in offices on opposite sides of the continent.
“I wanted to tell a story that explored some of the challenges people are currently navigating — namely, how to connect with others despite physical separation — through a different set of circumstances than the ones we’re still trying to contextualize ourselves in,” James said. “It explores some of the challenges and unexpected benefits to communicating in new ways under less-than-ideal conditions.”
James said she appreciated the challenge of writing a play that tries to dispense with traditional stagecraft and uses technology to enhance the story.
“By staging my play as a series of video chats between two people living on opposite sides of the country, I was able to make the issue of compromised communication a part of the narrative rather than just a technical challenge of staging a play in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “It was also a priority for me to write a play that could be staged while maintaining social distance, which we achieved.”
“Victors, Valiant,” by Susan Apker, is the story of two former college roommates, one of whom has had a recurrence of cancer during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s about friendship, moral choices and how far we are willing to go to help those we love,” she said.
Apker said the playwrights were not given any directions, other than to think about what could be done remotely or pre-taped and what could be livestreamed at the time of the event.
“This inspired me to write a good portion of the script as telephone conversations between the friends, with one live scene, which anchors the middle of the play,” she said. “Knowing one of my actors is remote in Fort Worth helped me to fashion the scenes.”
Completing the quartet of plays will be “Wonders of the World” by Jenny Clyde.