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BWW Interview: Nichole Palmietto of THE SHIFT at Found Stages

A New Immersive Zoom Play Opens at Found Stages

When we finally shake this pandemic off for good, we're going to be left with an extensive new vocabulary that includes all-things-Zoom. There's Zoombombing. We've got the popular Covideo party. And there's my favorite: Zoom fatigue. This month, Found Stages, one of Atlanta's most innovative theatre companies, is tapping into our increasingly impressive knowledge of Zoom with a Zoom theatre production called The Shift. BroadwayWorld caught up with director Nichole Palmietto to talk about the show.


BWW: I'm excited to hear about this new Zoom production you've got going right now. Tell us a little bit about the story.

Palmietto: It's called The Shift, and the reason for that is there's a not-fully-described event called the shift that has ended the world as we know it. It was a post-apocalyptic event, essentially. It's imagining the world in the future where there's been climate change that has pretty much ravaged the world, so there have been these years-long droughts that have dried up a lot of water, and there's no rain to replenish it.

The characters live in the world that has been divided by a dam built by this bottling plant, so they have dammed up the water and are selling it as bottled water. That essentially splits this community into two sections. They refer to the division as the fault line.

There are "Above Faulters" and "Below Faulters." The people of the Below have gathered together and formed this committee that's just referred to as "the committee." They've worked for years to try and negotiate an agreement through legal proceedings and different things, and now they're going to break into the bottling plants and reroute the water.

BWW: This is an interactive experience for the audience, right? Tell me about how the Zoom audience plays into the story.

The audience are cast as members of "the committee," and the audience helps the characters to reroute the water. We have an escape room designer who helped us to create the show. We all gather in the main Zoom room, and then we split into three breakout rooms. Everybody gets three breakout rooms, which is where audience participants work puzzles. And then we come back, and that's where the main plot of the story takes place.

There are three female engineers: a hydraulic engineer, a civil engineer and a software engineer, and the software engineer is the inside-job person. She works for the bottling plant and has all the inside stuff.

BWW: So, it's like an escape room challenge.

Palmietto: It is a little bit. People who absolutely love escape rooms will find that there's a lot more story than the normal escape room because it is still a play. And then people who are used to plays will find that there's a lot more interaction than they would normally get. But that's what we do. We do immersive and site-specific work. All of our pieces have some level of interaction.

BWW: That's really cool. This sounds like a fun immersive experience. Did you guys create this specifically for Zoom, or is this a project that was adapted for a Zoom platform?

Palmietto: That's a great question. This was specifically made for Zoom.

BWW: Oh, wow. Okay. So you guys knew from the very beginning that this is where you were going with this project.

Palmietto: We did. Yeah, it was after the pandemic started... We had this idea, and then we pitched it to the Atlanta Science Festival and then really started making it a reality. Found Stages has done some site-specific work before that uses technology as the medium, so we always try to lean into whatever it is.

For Zoom, we utilize the breakout rooms. And, during the puzzles, we use an annotate feature, which is part of Zoom and which is not even a thing that I knew existed before we started this show. So, we're really leaning into all of what could normally be seen as a limitation of Zoom, and we're turning it into a benefit of the show.

BWW: That's really cool. Why did you think that Zoom was the best way to tell this story?

That's a good question. We're spending a lot of our time on Zoom and part of what we've done in the past with our technology plays is taking something that's become very ubiquitous and mundane and finding the excitement in it again, wanting to take this thing that has become drudgery and finding the wonder in it again.

BWW: How many people are able to participate during each show?

We're capping it at 30 Zoom squares, so you only need one ticket per household or one ticket per device. We've had whole families before, but we usually have two or three people in the square. Although, last night we had an entire family play together, but from different parts of the country. The world, actually.

BWW: Oh! That's a really neat aspect of this project, being able to see theatre with people that you normally are separated from during these types of experiences. I love that!

Palmietto: And our mission is building community through innovative storytelling. So, right now, especially when people aren't able to see people, it works well.

BWW: I'm interested in how your partnership with the Atlanta Science Festival came about. Does that have something to do with the water element of the story?

Palmietto: They're just really amazing. This is how they do their festival. They find community partners to lead events, and I'm also working at Horizon Theatre this year as the national new play network producer in residence.

In the fall Horizon did a science-themed show, and I think I reached out to Science ATL about partnering on getting science guests for after the show. And through that connection, I learned about how they do the science festival and how they rely on community partners to lead events.

And my playwrights and I have all been part of Found Stages since the beginning, and we were just - we missed each other.

So we had a Zoom cocktail hour one night, and we just got to talking about "we should make Zoom show," and "we should do this thing." And then we're like, "Oh, and it should be science-fiction and maybe it deals with, like, you know, the water wars that we're seeing," and so it just kind of came out of that - wanting to make something together again and missing each other and missing working together.

Then the science festival had a partner info session for potential partners, so I pitched our idea to them, and they thought it was great.

BWW: Is there an ecological takeaway from the play that you hope audiences leave with?

Palmietto: I hope audiences leave feeling that, as our Earth keeps experiencing climate changes, it's everyone's responsibility to ensure that natural resources are shared fairly and equitably.


The Shift runs through March 27 at Found Stages. For tickets and info, visit www.foundstages.com.


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