Marc Palmieri, communications studies instructor in Mercy College’s School of Liberal Arts, is continuing to see great success of his one-of-a-kind play created for online broadcast, which comes in two acts – “Waiting for the Host” and its sequel “Still Waiting.” Both acts have been debuted by notable theater companies, such as Syracuse’s Redhouse Arts Center and Penn State Centre Stage. In even more exciting news, a book adaptation of the play is set to be published by the Dramatists Play Service, one of the premier play-licensing and theatrical publishing agencies in the world.
The performance vehicle for “Waiting for the Host” and “Still Waiting” is the now all-to-familiar online meeting platform Zoom, which is fitting, since the play is about a tech-challenged church meeting hosted over Zoom to plan a virtual version of The Passion Play, or Easter pageant, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
Through his play, Palmieri paints a complete picture, with touches of humor and drama, of what people have been experiencing during the pandemic – adjusting to increased social isolation, navigating online platforms to participate in virtual work meetings and extracurricular activities, and helping family, colleagues and friends who may not be as tech-savvy navigate software such as Zoom.
“Part of the gag is that everyone’s trying to use Zoom correctly,” Palmieri explains.
Palmieri is the first American playwright to compose a play meant for online broadcast at a time when fans are reeling from Broadway’s postponement of performances until January 2021 and temporary closures of their favorite theaters due to social distancing mandates.
Audiences are craving entertainment, and Palmieri has reinvented the wheel to offer virtual streaming of a medium that’s characteristically most enjoyed live action. He gave crowds what they desired - the first live stream of the play drew 1,000 viewers, and audiences continue to grow. In describing the novelty of the production, Palmieri said, “We did our work as theater artists in a dimension where we had never been before.”
Critics and audiences laud “Waiting for the Host” and “Still Waiting” for exuding acute relatability , sense of humor and cleverness, and the actors’ passionate performances that, despite being behind a computer screen, are in no way watered down. According to Broadway World, “A play such as ‘Waiting for the Host,’ that was written and created to perform on Zoom, allows a new work, a new approach to performing, a new approach to theater, a new approach to directing to take place and it is definitely entertaining.”
The review continues: “The play does not disappoint. It is real, raw, and brings some much-needed laughter; exactly what theater is supposed to do.”
“Waiting for the Host” is based on Palmieri’s real-life experience. In April 2020, the pastor of his local church in Queens, New York, an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time, requested that he play Jesus in a Zoom adaptation of its passion play. After participating, he came up with the idea for the play, and thought, “I have to write this down now.” He took just two hours to write the 40-minute first act of the play and, on a whim, sent it to his agent and publisher. Within 36-hours his pages made it to Rick Lombardo, renowned artistic director at Penn State Center Stage, who immediately expressed interest in doing a reading. And the rest is history.
“The process of writing the play was personally so satisfying – I was able to speak to the sorrow of much of what’s going on and the desperation we are all feeling for it to pass,” Palmieri described. He’s particularly proud that the play allows theaters to continue connecting with their audiences during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a time that has been particularly challenging for the industry, while also providing viewers a crucial entertainment outlet that is fun, positive and uplifting.
“I know that coming out of this, people will be reminded of how necessary live theater is, and how that in-flesh moment of a theater performance is what makes it such a powerful art form. This play celebrates the power of theater, at the same time insisting on its existence in its form,” Palmieri said.
In his role as instructor at Mercy College, he is looking forward to incorporating virtual play writing into his curriculum, and to working with student musical theater clubs to use online platforms to share their creations and talents. “This experience has opened up a whole new possibility of what I’ll be able to do with students at Mercy. Now going through this process, I feel equipped about doing this type of performance through the student clubs,” Palmieri said.
The good news is that the play is written to also be staged physically, so theaters and musical theater students will hopefully be able to hold in-person productions in due time. Palmieri sees the play carrying out in regular format once social distancing guidelines are relaxed, and theaters can re-welcome their audiences.
Additional productions of “Waiting for the Host” are taking place in August. The Theater Project out of New Jersey will be streaming the play the week of August 6 and the Los Angeles-based Defiance Theatre Co. will be streaming the play on Friday, August 14.
Also, the Pangdemonium Theatre Company in Singapore will be performing a live version of the play, in English, in the fall. Exact dates are to be determined.