CCTC/HJT's Virtual 'Open Mic Night' Is Fun With Heart

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Chris Ledda on the guitar at left, Emily Tullock on the right.

On Friday, April 23 at 7 p.m. Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre will present a new play, “Open Mic Night” written by New York based playwright Justin Jay Gray, filmed and directed by CCTC/HJT technical director Matt Kohler. The play will be broadcast on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Jester51 and on the theater's Youtube channel at CCTC HJT.

After five years of highs and mostly lows running the Charity Café's weekly open mic night, songwriter Ben has grown complacent and tired of the same old routine. But all that may change when Sophia, an aspiring standup comic, walks through the door. The cast includes Emily Tullock as Sophia, Chris Ledda as Ben and Mike Regan as Wyatt. The play was filmed onstage at CCTC/HJT. The run time is just over 20 minutes.
Although director Matt Kohler hasn't personally run an open mic night, he said that he has attended his fair share. He
spent a few years helping run an improv troupe out of Hyannis which he said informed his approach to directing “Open Mic Night.”
“I think the vibes are similar,” he said. “You have your regular performers, your loyal attendees, the ups and downs of popularity.”

Kohler has
been a member of the CCTC/HJT staff for almost six years. He possesses a formal education in theater directing along with technical theater, and welcomes the opportunity to put those skills to use. He explained that during the pandemic, he found himself doing a lot of learning in regards to filming, editing and streaming performances for virtual CCTC/HJT audiences. Although it was challenging, he said he thinks it has been a valuable skill set to add to his toolbox.

“My filming experience is minute, as my main focus has been live entertainment,” Kohler said. “A lot of sketch comedy shorts, helping out with some filming locally on the Cape, and creating short videos for projections in live theatre. Going from creating entertainment catered to a live audience with live performers to broadcasting and livestreaming performances online has been a huge learning curve.”

Kohler explained that figuring out a process to create virtual entertainment with the opportunity to interact with an audience remotely has been an exciting journey. Although it felt strange and unnatural at first, as time went by, he and his CCTC/HJT colleagues found a lot of clever and fun ways to create and engage not only with artists, but with the greater community as a whole.
The rehearsal process for “Open Mic Night” was short, amounting to a few Zoom sessions and then rehearsing live and in person for a few weeks prior to filming. The actors involved are all together in person.
“I was incredibly lucky to be able to work with the three of them,” Kohler explained. “Mike and Emily are husband and wife, and Chris, their best friend, is in a COVID pod with them, so we could easily rehearse the three of them together on the stage at the theater.”
Kohler teaches a technical theatre class for teens at CCTC/HJT. His four winter session tech students helped out with the production. Kohler set them the challenge of designing and building the set for “Open Mic Night,” and they more than delivered on creating the Charity Cafe. Other than the students, Kohler explained that he was in many ways a one-person crew, running the lights, sound, three cameras, and two audio recorders for the filming day. With the current guidelines in place for the pandemic and for CCTC/HJT theater specifically, it was important to keep the amount of people in the room at a minimum. Kohler donned his mask and, aside from the cast, was the only person in the building for the filming of the production.
The cast are my good friends,” Kohler said. “I have worked with them for a number of years in different plays, sketches, and performances. It is an absolute pleasure working with them always and they bring such joy and passion and silliness to whatever they are creating, which is an added benefit, especially under the more stressful conditions of creating during a pandemic.”
CCTC/HJT producing artistic director Nina Schuessler is enthusiastic about the production.
I really love this 20-minute play,” Schuessler said. “It’s so relatable if you’ve ever hosted or attended open mic nights. It’s very funny and has a lot of heart.”
This
online is a good preview as CCTC/HJT prepares for its 70th anniversary season, complete with a new outdoor stage. Admission to “Open Mic Night” is free, though donations will be gratefully accepted at www.capecodtheatrecompany.org, or text the word Jester to 44321.