It’s been obvious that theaters around the world have been trying out different forms of performance, and the creativity has continued to grow. Now, in tandem with theaters around the U.S., one Philly theater will be participating in streaming acclaimed playwright Lauren M. Gunderson’s filmed play ‘The Catastrophist’, a co-production of Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre.
People’s Light, one of Pennsylvania’s largest professional nonprofit theaters, will be joining creative organizations in showing this production, but they’ve also taken the performance a step further—according to the release, People’s Light and its accessibility partners—audio describer Nicole Sardella and ASL interpretation team Hands UP Productions—have produced an audio described and an ASL-interpreted version of the film, which they will provide free of charge to all theaters presenting ‘The Catastrophist.’
“People’s Light has been an accessibility leader in the theatre world for a long time, and an organization that Round House has looked to as a model for our own efforts,” said Ed Zakreski, Managing Director at Round House Theatre, in a statement.
“We’ve all been discovering a new kind of accessibility through digital streaming,” added playwright Lauren Gunderson, “and I am overjoyed that ‘The Catastrophist’ will further expand the conversation around the play’s themes by adding signed and audio-described options for audiences worldwide. This is how theatre should be done, and I’m deeply grateful to the teams making this happen.”
Gunderson, one of the country’s most-produced playwrights, has returned to the theater scene with this new show based on the life and work of Dr. Nathan Wolfe, a renowned real-life virologist who happens to be Gunderson’s husband. The show plays on the theme of time jumping and one eerie prediction: Wolfe proposed pandemic insurance years before the novel coronavirus outbreak. No one bought it. Now, in a COVID-altered world, we hear his story, presented as a filmed theatrical experience that has streamed at partner theaters throughout the country.
Gunderson was actually approached about writing the play involving her husband at the start of the pandemic. After some hesitation, she agreed. “In this moment—with a global pandemic raging and ravaging communities, with a chilling rejection of science resurfacing, and with undeniable and unnecessary deaths devastating families worldwide—Nathan’s story might be more universal than ever before,” Gunderson explains in the ‘Catastrophist’ program note.“I realized I could write a new kind of one-person play that twisted the predictable theatrical form. One where the writer is almost in the play, sharing the journey with the main character. You recall how a playwright must push her characters to the edge? Well, I thought, what if the character pushes back? And with that, I knew that this was a play I could write. No. This was a play I couldn’t wait to write.”
Nathan Wolfe in this streamed version of ‘The Catastrophist’ will be played by William DeMeritt, who some may recognize from different television and movie roles such as in ‘The Normal Heart,’ ‘The Surrogate,’ and ‘The Lennon Report.’ His performance in ‘The Catastrophist’ has been praised as “brilliant, ideally nuanced,” “smart,” and “magnetic.”
Gunderson is familiar with People’s Light as well. Back in 2017, she also premiered her work ‘I And You’ at the experimental theatre company.
“Lauren is one of the most compelling and imaginative playwrights in the country,” said People’s Light Producing Director Zak Berkman in the release. “She has a distinct ability to personalize science, and provides a truly unique vantage point in ‘The Catastrophist.’ We’re thrilled to partner with Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre to share this timely, deeply personal, and beautifully crafted play with a wider audience.”
This particular production was directed by Jasson Minadakis, with the audio description by Nicole Sardella and the ASL interpretation by Billy Sanders on behalf of Hands UP Productions.
‘The Catastrophist’ streams at peopleslight.org through May 23 for $25 per household with an online account. All accessibility options appear automatically in patrons’ accounts. The theatre also notes that audience members above the age of 13 will enjoy the production the most.