The Playwright Zone to create digital theater with paid local talent

Project creator John Becker says its tone will be 'the Coen brothers meet The Twilight Zone.'

As the country continues to reopen from the pandemic, many people are struggling to settle into whatever their new life may be. Especially in the world of the arts. Many creatives moved on to new careers. Some theaters closed their doors forever. But the need for the arts and the desire for an escape from reality are stronger than ever.

Jouska Productions is trying to ease the transition between shutdown and “normal” life with a project they’re calling The Playwright Zone. The creator of Jouska Productions, John Becker, is counting on that unfulfilled passion and love for theater to help drive the project forward. 

The idea is to create digital episodes using local talent, who receive a base pay and a percentage of the rentals. Becker explains, 

We’ll need everyone who cares about the arts to become involved, mostly by taking a moment to rent an episode! Anyone who rents an episode is free to email us ([email protected]) with an idea for another episode. If we use it, we’ll pay you and include your name in the credits. We’ll be hiring DC actors, crew, and eventually more writers.

So essentially: The more people who engage, the more art there will be to consume. And the more episodes in demand, the more performers have potential work. It’s a win-win!

Becker describes the tone of the material to be “the Coen brothers meet The Twilight Zone.” And the first installment, Summit Meeting, fits the description with biting dark comedy, drama, and a touch of the bizarre. 

Jose Guzman and Vince Eisenson in ’Summit Meeting.’ Photo courtesy of The Playwright Project.

Summit Meeting comes from Becker’s own repertoire and is based on a one-act play he originally presented for the Source Theatre festival at the Kennedy Center. Two men, a Palestinian and an Isreali, become stuck in an elevator in America. What starts as a mildly awkward interaction evolves into a volley of insults, culminating in a battle of the buttons (i.e., the elevator controls) as if they were Israel itself. 

Vince Eisenson (playing Hiram) and Jose Guzman (playing Abdul) are hilarious and witty. The duo have a great energy that toes the line of hysteria just enough to keep the episode from feeling hateful. 

Vince Eisenson and Jose Guzman in ’Summit Meeting.’ Photo courtesy of The Playwright Project.

But the episode is as insightful as it is entertaining. By calling out the absurdities in politics and prejudice with this sort of situational relatability, the piece serves to question assumptions and evoke a dialogue. Which, as Becker explained to me, “fosters conversation, rather than preaching to our own extreme choirs, while entertaining the hell out of people.”

Future episodes will follow the same idea of the project’s tagline: “Traveling between light and shadow, ordinary people discover extraordinary situations,” touching on current events and other aspects of society.

Jouska Productions’ The Playwright Zone shows immense potential for growth and collaboration in the local theater network. Becker’s project exemplifies the resilience of theater, while offering an opportunity to support and be entertained. The next episode is due in August, a third in September, and onward and upward as demand requires. Check out a free trailer of Summit Meeting on their website!

The Playwright Zone is produced by Jouska Productions with the first episode, Summit Meeting (running time 10 minutes), available to rent online. For updates on new episodes, visit their website.

Written and Directed by John Becker
Cast: Vince Eisenson (Hiram) and Jose Guzman (Abdul)
Head of Marketing: Keegan Cassidy
Boom Operator: Brad Klotz 

SEE ALSO: Artists Who Inspire! #4: John Becker


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