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Paulette Lee, second from left on top, directs a Zoom rehearsal with actors involved in The Virtual Playground online play-reading and performing workshop.

The stay-at-home directive due to COVID-19 has left many arts and theater enthusiasts and professionals lost.

Paulette Lee, a longtime amateur theater professional and Frederick resident, recently found a way to help fill that void with The Virtual Playground, an online original play-reading and performance workshop. The Zoom-based project includes 10 cast members, some of whom are fellow Frederick residents, reading — and now performing — short plays. The group’s first virtual live performance, moderated by Lee, who is serving as the artistic director, is set for 4 p.m. May 3.

Lee recently took some time to answer questions via email about the project and what we may be able to see from her when quarantine is over.

Can you tell me a little bit about The Virtual Playground and why you decided to launch it?

Lee: I moved to Frederick a year ago (after living in central France for a year and a half, and before that in Silver Spring, for five years), and immediately got involved with the local community theater scene, starting with The Potomac Players in Hagerstown, with whom I’ve done two shows, and then with The Endangered Species Project (TESP) in Frederick. I’ve been acting and otherwise involved in non-professional theater for 60 years, having started studying in L.A., where I grew up, when I was 12, and then active in all communities where I lived with my late husband. I was in rehearsals for TESP’s production of ‘The Awakening,’ taking classes with TESP’s founding and artistic director Christine Mosere (after not having taken classes for many years), and had just been given the nod to direct a play for The Potomac Players in their next season, when the COVID-19 lockdown occurred. I figured there would be a lot of people who would want to continue to enjoy their avocation, and I know several playwrights from my years with Theatre Harrisburg, so I created The Virtual Playground as an online group composed of actors and directors (though so far I’m the only person directing), using original material, starting with my playwrights friends and acquaintances. It’s also a good way to be engaged, busy, connected with others and distracted from the news!

What kind of response have you received about the project and the idea?

Lee: It has been relatively small, but satisfying. We’re currently working on four short plays, using 10 different actors, plus I have additional actors on a contact list. As I get new plays — for which I’ll soon be soliciting — hopefully I’ll expand the acting and directing rosters.

How did you find the actors and playwrights who are involved in the project?

Lee: I contacted experienced actors with whom I’d worked, as well as newer performers I knew, and asked them to spread the word, plus posted on various Facebook group pages.

Will people be able to see the plays online? If so, how can they do that?

Lee: Yes … What initially started as a play-READING group, is evolving into a performance group. …

Following a three-week rehearsal period, local actors will be doing staged readings of three short plays, to be followed by talk-backs with the casts and playwrights. The plays are:

‘Circus Scrapes’ by Barbara Trainin Blank, with Tom Semmes, Anthony Floyd and Ippy Simmons; ’Birthday Surprise’ by Cindy Dlugolecki, with Lori Goodnow and Tom Semmes; and ‘Writer’s Block’ by Marjorie Bicknell, with Gillian Lawler and Maverick McKee. Attendance is open to the public, with advance registration required: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0qdu6sqj0oGdC_7iFz4B9uOIi7EekySWEG.

What other projects do you have planned for the future (online during quarantine or after)?

Lee: I love challenges and love directing (maybe even more than acting...), but LIVE theater is my true passion. I love bringing a play to life, and as a director or audience member, I love seeing that happen. But to be honest, I love the interaction with the audience more than anything. I often joke that I do theater ‘for the applause:’ not just for the recognition (which is nice, of course), but for the opportunity to connect with the audience ... to make them laugh, or cry, or perhaps most importantly, think. So I don’t see doing this ‘virtually’ on a long-term basis. But — one never knows...

For more information about The Virtual Playground, email: communicator07@yahoo.com.

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