By Rachel Vick
A hybrid production using film and theatre to chronicle the pandemic experience in the World’s Borough will make its debut at the Queens Theatre later this month.
The project “I See You and You See Me,” a series of monologues based on first hand accounts pulled from the Queens Memory Project, premieres April 22. The Queens Memory Project collected the testimonies of borough residents as they contended with the early days of the pandemic — from front-line nurses, to students to older adults stuck at home.
The project was “born out of necessity,” said producer Dominic D’Andrea.
“While we all experienced [the pandemic] together, people cope in very different ways,” D’Andrea said. “To me, that’s the story of what this was. We were all together, alone. We had to tell the story. We had to.”
From the harrowing story of a COVID-19 patient to a 20-something attempting a return to online dating, the project encompassed the COVID experience — even down to the way it was filmed.
Due to safety measures in place when production started last summer, some of the 11 actors were filmed with a telescopic lens by a camera operator located across the room. Others were recorded on Zoom or taped themselves. D’Andrea said the unique videos further contributed to the sincerity of the final product.
“That’s what’s so beautiful. [Participants] were not apart from this, not objective observers,” he said. “We’re also impacted by it.”
Writer and director Harris Doran said that accurately portraying the diversity of the borough and residents’ pandemic experiences was at the forefront of his production decisions, down to the selection of source material.
The film, a series of monologues, uses stories from the first few months of the pandemic as told by Kaffy Abdul, Hector Biaggi, Seo-Young Chu, Karen Fisher, Emily Hepding, Sto Len, Douglas Lyons, Carrie Marino, Natalie Milbrodt, Demetries Morrow, Sheena Pachon, and Sarah Pousty.
“I have a really specific understanding of Queens as an extremely diverse place, but that diversity means so many things, so it was important to me that things were popping out as different corners of Queens in terms of point of view,” Harris said
“There’s a love that comes through because I love Queens, I love the people of Queens,” he added.
Harris said there was a conscious effort to preserve the theatricality of the production while adapting it for a screen audience with “a balance of comedy versus tragedy and hope.”
Actors affected by the pandemic performing monologues from others impacted by the coronavirus brought a “a visceral truth” to the production, he said.
“We’re telling other people stories but [the actors] are experiencing parallel stories and that comes through in a very human way,” Harris said. “I think there was a healing that happened because [production] allowed actors to express themselves the way they do best.”
“You get to see inside people’s mind and apartment, in their solitude, but together it’s this shared experience,” he added. “The reality of lives lived side by side, apartment to apartment.”
The film will be available on the Queens Theatre website and YouTube.
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