BWW Interview: Marshall Jones III and STREAM ON PRODUCTIONS
Long-time theater producer/directors Marshall Jones, III and Ricardo Khan combined forces to create a unique theater experience via the internet, Stream ON! The live 10- minute plays from around the Globe are authored by distinguished and award-winning playwrights including writer /director Emily Mann (McCarter Theatre); Murray Horwitz (Tony Award® winning co-creator of Ain't Misbehavin'); Ricardo Khan (co- founder Crossroads Theatre Company); Rani Moorthy (writer/performer RASA Theater/UK); and Vera Starbard (writer on Peabody Award winning Molly of Denali on PBS Kids).
Viewers stream the show via Facebook Live at no cost, but the organizers have created a GoFundMe page where contributions can be submitted to provide financial relief for the artists involved: https://www.gofundme.com/f/stream-on-june-19.
Stream ON is produced in association with the World Theatre Lab, a multi-country collective of writers begun in 2005 by Ricardo Khan and based in cities around the world.
Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Marshall Jones III about Stream On!
When did you first conceive the idea for Stream ON Productions?
It was a convergence of several items. I resigned from Crossroads at the end of the year (2019) so I had no immediate plans other than pursuing my independent directing career. I didn't know what was coming, particularly a world-wide pandemic. My daughter is in her first year of the Dramatic Writing program working on her MFA and they in mid-March, they streamed readings via Zoom. Then that same day Ricardo Khan reached out pretty bummed that he wasn't able to rehearse a show he's been working on for about 5 years. Obviously, it was cancelled due to Covid-19. So, we decided to stream 10-minute plays written about artists from all around the world. Things fell into place pretty quick - the name, the logo, the writers (we selected writers we liked!)
We know that you and Riccardo Khan have an excellent and long professional relationship. Tell us a little bit about it.
I've known him since the early 80's when I was a student at Rutgers. I've always had a lot of respect for Crossroads, but I never imagined working there. I wanted NYC and Broadway. But you do those things, then you realize New Brunswick was where it all began for me. As for Stream ON, Rick was able to bring his artists from the World Theater Lab. This added an international perspective that truly makes us unique.
Why do you think this is the ideal time to launch Stream On?
I've been a professor of Theater Arts at Rutgers since 2002. Several times I've been asked to teach online, but I resisted. I figured, let younger professors teach those courses. But due to Covid-19, I didn't have a choice. None of my colleagues did either. We had to adapt or get left behind. But this was a blessing because I realized there is a lot of power in technology, so I embraced it. For example, in my Black Theater History class, there is a whole segment on Lorraine Hansberry. I was able to add research elements like a 45-minute radio interview that I could never show in class. The students can listen at their leisure (and boy was that a compelling interview. Her brilliance just shined throughout the interview.) So in addition to embracing technology, Covid has no borders. I quickly realized that we are one. So it is my hope that Stream ON will be a valuable role in celebrating the oneness of all people.
What have been some of the reactions of your audience and the professional community to the presentations?
Far better than I could have ever dreamed. Since we stream live, it's great reading the comments as the stories are unfolded. And from reading the comments from Nigeria, the UK, the Caribbean, Alaska - literally all around the world. We did 3 monthly steam-casts and we solicited contributions during the streams. Our goal was $1,500 and we reached it 2 out of 3 times. Came close on the other one. We use those funds to pay the artists. As a society, we need to value artists like we do athletes. They have a special gift, so we must honor that. Particularly actors because supply greatly out-weighs demand but that shouldn't mean that they not compensated. We're putting them to work. And the world is waiting because they can't go to plays or the movies. Only Netflix and the other streaming services.
Tell us why you think 10-minute plays are a successful format.
Ha ha. Well, teaching college students, plus my girls are in their 20's, so I get the attention span thing. Also, when Rutgers went to remote teaching, they encouraged us to take a one-hour class and break it into 4 15-minute segments. Bit-sized entertainment is where the industry is going. Even in theater, you find there are more and more 90-minute, intermission-less plays.
We'd love to know about a few of the talents that are getting involved.
I am so proud of the level of talent we've been fortunate to have. Our last stream-cast, we had Emily Mann (Theater Hall of Fame member), Murray Horwitz. We also had award-winning producer/director/writer Mahesh Dattani from Mumbai, India; noted screenwriter/playwright Richard Wesley. We've also been able to serialize work. In May, Vera Starbard (who is a writer on Molly from Denali on PBS Kids which just won a Peabody Award in its very first season) wrote a wonderful play about a Native family in Alaska. She also created an endearing character - Grandmother Nora (she was sneaking out to play bingo during the quarantine). Well, the characters making up that family was so great, we asked her to write another one in our June presentation. Let's just say, Grandma Nora has come a long way with the technology skills.
And I have to shout-out to the actors. It never amazing me how much talent there is out there. You'll never have a shortage and we are happy to provide them an opportunity now that theaters are closed, and film production is at a stand-still.
The fact that you have plays from around the globe is great. Why do you think this is so important for your audiences?
The world is more interconnected now than ever before in history. Each time we rehearse Stream ON, I'm like a little kid. I'm amazed because it's say 3pm in NYC but it's 8pm in the UK and 11am in Alaska and I look at my Brady Bunch style screen and we are all together. That just blows my mind. And the technology is so easy and relatively inexpensive. I remember when my parents would hurry us off the phone speaking to Grandma because of the long-distance prices. Times have changed. Just look at the world-wide impact caused by the murder of George Floyd. Massive demonstrations all around the world. Also, the curiosity factor has always been important for audiences so now with the click of a mouse, you can witness a story from Mumbai about the intimacy that 2 men want to share during the quarantine. Or how a Native family in Alaska are coping with family dynamics such as home-schooling kids and keeping Grandma in the house instead of playing bingo. You soon find out - they're just like us. We want Stream ON to celebrate the oneness of all people.
What are some of the plans that you and Ricardo have for the future of Stream On?
The plan is to take off July and August to finalize the website and flesh out the strategic plan. We want to build the library, so we have these mini-movies from all around the world in various different genres. At my core, I'm a theater guy so we will always stream these live, so there's an audience that can comment and connect with what we're doing. We also have a "curtain call" at the end where all the artists come back and we open up for questions. We are also in discussion to develop a whole new division - Stream ON Education. We will provide EDI resources to schools and the students develop their own short scripts that we would eventually stream.
Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know!
Yes - Stream ON is a unique entertainment company that will eventually be an alternative source for streaming stories. It's a new format. It's not movies because there's no editing or takes. And it's not really plays like we know in theater because the audience isn't directly with the actors. But they are there watching as the moments unfold. And they are commenting. And if you watch it later and it's not live, it was filmed live and you can read the comments to see what others from around the world felt.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marshall Jones III and Stream ON Productions