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BWW Interview: Playdate Theatre Founder Talia Light Rake Talks Partnership With After-School All-Stars for National Drama Club

Playdate Theatre was founded in March 2020 as the first-ever online theatre company, helping to connect creatives, produce virtual content and more.

BWW Interview: Playdate Theatre Founder Talia Light Rake Talks Partnership With After-School All-Stars for National Drama Club

Playdate Theatre, founded by Talia Light Rake in March 2020, was established as the first-ever online theatre company, helping to connect emerging and professional artists in the industry, produce creative virtual content, and more during the pandemic.
Comprised of their new work development conferences and virtual theatre festivals, Playdate Theatre recently announced their exciting new Drama Club partnership for high school students with After-School All-Stars, beginning February 2021. After-School All-Stars - a company founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1992 providing enriching programs and transformative opportunities to help students develop the skills and knowledge to succeed in life and their career- will be connecting students from their East Coast chapters with entertainment industry professionals through virtual offerings.
For more information on Playdate Theatre and After-School All-Stars, visit and
We spoke with Talia Light Rake about Playdate Theatre's partnership with After-School All-Stars, Playdate's mission to provide students a well-rounded, creative theater education through the pandemic, and more.

Let's start at the beginning, how did Playdate Theatre get connected to After-School All-Stars and how did the new Drama Club partnership come about?

We were able to connect with After-School All-Stars through Ben Paul, who is their President & CEO. And being the LA person that I am, we have been in similar communities and we had been able to connect when this idea came about. The fact that we were having this amazing program and needed to figure out how to reach more students, when I pitched it to Ben, Ben said, "This sounds like it could be an awesome opportunity for our students." He talked about the program they had done recently, which was a songwriting program with TikTok, and so he was like, "There are theater kids out there, let's see if we can make something happen!"

Can you give me an overview of what Playdate's Drama Club it is and what it offers to students?

The Drama Club is a national drama club- actually it can be international, we had a few students from outside of the country as well. But basically, we noticed a few things that are happening right now - we noticed there is this whole group of artists from emerging to professional, who are out of work right now, those who would usually be doing their Broadway workshops, or their screen tests are not, and have this whole toolbox of amazing skills they are not being able to put into play.

And then we noticed that there are all these students whose spring musicals were cancelled or have been sitting on Zoom playing Zip Zap Zop and not getting the most out of what theater can be. So, we have these two different demographics. We are a company that was founded at the beginning of the pandemic, we connect artists despite the distance. Throughout these... what is it, almost a year now? - we got really good at optimizing Zoom and leaning into this platform as a way to create art. Given our knowledge on how to use Zoom to its fullest, and these two demographics, we wanted to pair them up and create a program that would actually benefit both groups, where these students could have a really fulfilling, theatrical, creative, artistic experience, and these teachers would be able to 1.) get a little bit of dough in their pockets, but 2.) really share their skills with the next generation of theater-makers.

If you need to find the good that's come out of all this, it's the way that creative people have been able to connect virtually. It's great how so many people can connect in ways they never could because distance is no longer an issue.

Totally, and it's so funny because this is something we could have been doing the whole time. It really is that when everything turned online, your neighbor and the person across the country became the same. It just opened up so many amazing opportunities for collaboration that we never even processed before.

What does the program culminate in? What is the end result?

Our program is broken down into three different acts. Act 1 is the sort of survey course. Act 1 is your need-to-know, your basics, what it means to be a theatrical artist. That's where we have actors coming in, directors coming in, and you get a little taste of everything. And Act 1 culminates in a showcase, where students can pick something that they learned throughout the semester and showcase it for their peers, parents and friends. Last time we had amazing monologues they worked on, or a two-person person open scene they added virtual backgrounds to, or a presentation of their virtual lighting design.

Act 1 is called The Player, and Act 2 is called The Deviser, and that's where they're basically figuring out how to put on a virtual play. This is really ensemble building, and focusing on building communities, and it's a little bit higher than The Player level as we are really diving in and creating what a play could look like. The final presentation is, you're broken up into two groups and you create your own individual, original piece of work.

And then, Act 3, which is our Fellowship program, which is going to be coming this summer. This is the question of, what does it mean to be an actor in a digital age? This one is talking about really tangible, exciting skills from, 'What it means to do a self-tape?', to 'How do you find a monologue that is right for you?', 'How do you enter an audition?', 'What does it mean to slate?' And for Act 3, we are bringing in playwrights to write a monologue for each student, and then it will culminate in a performance of those monologues!

Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about who these playwrights and actors are that are working with you and your students?

I personally am an emerging artist myself, and I have been an apprentice at Williamstown [Theatre Festival], I actually am currently furloughed from Manhattan Theatre Club, so I feel very lucky to be able to have tapped into the Fellows community. A lot of my personal friends out there right now are directing Fellows and emerging playwrights who are just texting like, "Yeah I'll come do this reading for your kids for free." And I'm like, "No, no we'll give you a stipend!" Everyone right now is just very hungry. Graduating from college into the pandemic, which is what me and my peers are doing, has been a really scary time, so working with one another has been super exciting. My educational director of Playdate, Carina Goebelbecker, she and I became great friends when we were apprentices at Williamstown together, we have a shared network. And then we've grown into different communities with [places like] the O'Neill, or SPACE on Ryder Farm, people who have been around the block. But we've also started posting about it. Our goal is to start bringing in different artists from all over the country. A lot of [our team] have come from playwrights or different artists doing our development conferences and then being like, "I'm also a teaching artist, would you be interested in having me?" It's really through the internet, which is wild. Personal connections, but also through the internet.

What is the best way for students to get involved with this program?

It's an audition-based program with rolling auditions, so we truly, truly welcome anyone at any skill level to come and audition, as we are confident that we can create the space for you. Through our website we are going to be posting, through 'actors access' and 'Backstage' and creating connections all around. But, all they have to do is either a one-minute monologue, a one-minute video explaining why they want to come, or a short little paragraph, and they'll be reviewed and then auditioned into an either Act 1 or Act 2 level.

What does it mean to you and the team at Playdate Theatre and After-School All Stars to be providing this incredible outlet and theater education to students during this time?

It means a lot. Growing up I was in the youngest Shakespeare troupe in America, most people do musical theatre and I was doing Shakespeare! And we met in the old Magic Castle, and even to this day I can remember the smell of walking into that space and just remember that excitement that I had from doing it from 5 years old to 10 years old of just, "Oh, it's time for drama club!" This was the time of the week that I got to take a deep breath, be myself, engage with other people who wanted to be there. And that space is really hard to access right now. Most kids are in their homes, most kids don't have a lot of access to drama club given the social distance and the pandemic and these horrible circumstances that we're in. So, to be able to create even a sliver of that excitement and joy that came from walking into a space that was fully your own, that is really inspiring to me, and I feel really passionate about After-School All-Stars' mission.

Like you said, Playdate Theatre was founded at the beginning of the pandemic and continues to provide incredible virtual experiences. What else can we look forward to from Playdate in the future?

There's a few things on our docket right now. Playdate Theatre believes that providing space for collaboration despite the distance is something that can continue on past the pandemic. We are still moving and still rolling and hope that we're carving out our own individual space in the online theater world, space that we find is extremely important regardless of if we are going back in person. I think that we can have both truths and we're really excited to be exploring this new medium.

We have a holiday musical special coming out. We had our holiday songwriting conference back in December, and because time is a construct and we can use holiday cheer all year long, we are coming out with songs in February! You can catch Ratatouille: The TikTok musical star JJ Niemann singing on our tracks.

In addition, we are currently producing our next virtual play festival, it's called Clique Bait, it's a pun [laughs]. And it came from the conference that we held in October, where we whittled down from 190 submissions from all over the world. That was developed during our conference, and so that is going into production.

Next is round 4 of a new work development conference will be happening in March. That's for writers of all experience levels coming in to create screen-plays, we coined the term for a play that would take place virtually.

Do you have any final thoughts for us, anything else you would like to share?

This moment is wild, but that we at Playdate Theatre are hoping to ride the wave and to bring everyone with us. Our goal is to see people who want to make art, and provide them a space to do that. Whether you are in high school or whether you've had multiple plays published and performed on Broadway, this is a space for collaboration and community. By offering our National Drama Club, our new work development conferences, and our production festivals, we're hoping to be an outlet and a space for continued work to develop no matter the circumstance. We just encourage everyone to believe in themselves, and to believe that they could be making art right now, and to really reach out and contact us. We're so open to any thoughts and creative ideas because we want to make it happen.

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