Co-founder David Rice had a requirement for First Folio Theatre’s upcoming digital production, the latest in a series of shows and scenes the Oak Brook theater made available online during the COVID-19-mandated theater shutdown.
When he proposed the theater stream his adaptation of the short story “Why Dogs Don’t Talk,” it was with the understanding that First Folio would not do so unless both actors could be in the same room. The only way to accomplish that while ensuring their safety was to cast actors who live together.
“Once we agreed that was the way to go, we started brainstorming actors who were living together,” he said. “The first couple who came to our minds were August and Landree. We knew them. We knew they had the comedy skills to handle this kind of piece.”
August Forman and Landree Fleming not only agreed to do the play, they agreed to film it in their Evanston home. That proved something of a challenge.
“We live in a small Chicago-style apartment, two bedrooms and one is our office and is already pretty full,” said Forman. “Our poor dog. She already has anxiety because of the pandemic. We had to keep her in a room away from us because we were rehearsing.”
Enjoyable as it was, “I look forward to never recording in our home again,” quipped Forman, who plays bewildered owner Mel opposite Fleming’s Hubert the dog.
“Why Dogs Don’t Talk” was written by author/playwright Dean Monti, a good friend of Rice and his late wife, First Folio co-founder Alison C. Vesely. Rice adapted Monti’s tale about an owner and his dog negotiating the status of their relationship in the early 2000s. A few short play festivals accepted the work, which was also produced by City Lit Theater Company.
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Because of its length, Rice never considered it for the First Folio stage, but as pandemic restrictions began easing, he reconsidered.
First Folio Theatre presents the digital premiere of a live recording of “Why Dogs Don’t Talk,” adapted from Dean Monti’s tale about the relationship between a human and the human’s best friend. – Courtesy of D. Rice
“We were getting to a point where we might be able to do a live recording of people actually in the same room instead of the typical Zoom productions we had been doing,” he said.
With permission from the Actors’ Equity Association secured, rehearsals took place over Zoom.
“We were as safe as possible,” said Rice.
That included a fully vaccinated cast and crew, COVID-19 tests for everyone and special air filters for the shoot, which took about a day during which Forman and Fleming had to secure their dog Layla McButters in another room.
As a benefit to rehearsing and recording in their home, Fleming had ample opportunity for canine research.
“I did watch her quite a lot,” said Fleming.
“You stole her movements,” offered Forman.
“I totally stole her movements,” agreed Fleming.
“No one told us which characters we were playing,” said Forman. “I asked Landree ‘who do you want to play,’ and she said the dog. I said OK.”
“I had a great time,” said Fleming of the couple’s first production with First Folio. “I always wanted to play a dog. That’s checked off the list.”
While both worked during the pandemic, Forman says they acted mostly on Zoom.
“It was so lovely to be back in a space, to be able to work with the actor in the room and to record it the way we did,” said Forman of “Why Dogs Don’t Talk.” “It was a beautiful experience to create art and not create it over Zoom.”
“I missed it so much,” added Fleming. “It felt like such a gift, honestly, to come back to it.”
For them, the forced shutdown reinforced how much their profession means to them and their audience.
“We got a great deal of positive response from patrons who truly appreciated we were doing what we could to stay in touch with them,” Rice said.
And while he’s proud of the company’s latest digital production, there’s nothing like live theater, which resumes at First Folio in the fall.
“The immediacy of live theater is different from anything that happens online,” he said.