Theater by Skype: a Long Distance Affair in New York

What would you give to have an intimate Skype encounter, a personal performance given directly to you, by three different actors from around the world? For the price of a decent New York City lunch, you can have that experience from Feb. 5 to the 28 at Manhattan's Gershwin Hotel, by attending PopUp Theatrics' Long Distance Affair.

This is taking technology to a new level in theater performance. Audience members (only six at a time) are ushered in to a room where there are six computer terminals with headsets. Each individual audience member can communicate with each one of his or her three assigned "affairs." It's interactive, and the actors direct specific questions, make requests or ask you to sing in response to their situations. And did I mention each actor is performing from another country, on another continent?

My "affairs" were with a young man in Mexico, a young woman in Romania and an actress in Australia. Two were not native English speakers, but their English was impeccable, with slight accents. And the word "affair" may not be really appropriate: the three ten minute monologues I heard were about a man who may have been tortured, a girl chatting somewhat innocuously about her boyfriend and a woman communicating from hundreds of years in the future who wanted my help in saving the world. They were not in any way about sex, sexuality or even sexual relationships. The actors appearing on my computer screen each inserted my first name into their script in several places, but this did not seem necessary. This seemed too much of a gimmick, as if putting a big flashing sign on to say, "yes, this is Interactive Theater Designed Just for You" when of course, it is not designed just for us. These are fairly typical ten-minute play monologues, and can be appreciated on their own terms. This kind of one on one interactive performance seems new and exciting because it is delivered via Skype technology, but these sorts of theater pieces delivered to an audience of one have been done since the 1960's.

How much you enjoy your "affair" will depend on how much you enjoy this kind of interaction, and how excited you are by the novelty of seeing an actor performing via Skype from another country. It is almost impossible to review this in any standard way, as there are twelve different performances, and your ticket entitles you to see three that the venue assigns to you. You might be in the mood for comedy, but won't know if you are seeing comedies or dramas until you are watching them.

Despite these limitations, I enjoyed my three affairs. The actors were energized and enthusiastic, and the plays each presented something completely different. If you love technology, want to be the first one in your group to try new things and are willing to participate, Long Distance Affair might be just your cup of international, virtual tea. And a little bird tells me, that after New York, Long Distance Affair will be part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In the international environment of the world's largest arts festival, it is bound to be a hot topic of conversation, and a hot ticket to get.