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VIDEO: Richard Byrne Presents HELSINKI: A Play About Theatre and Commerce In the Pandemic

The play depicts Roger - a working character actor - as he participates in a Zoom audition for an infomercial.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the theatre world. Stages shut down. Actors scrambling for work. It's a moment that has compelled many artists to contemplate their relationship with commerce. A time for show business that is more business than show.

Washington, DC playwright Richard Byrne's new short play Helsinki - which is streaming for free online now tackles the implications of the moment head on.

Watch below!

The play depicts Roger - a working character actor - as he participates in a Zoom audition for an infomercial. He tells the producers that he was about to play Prospero in a New York production of The Tempest when pandemic took hold and cancelled the show. (He was already off book!)

But the producers have some pointed questions for Roger beyond his credits in TV series and Hallmark Christmas films. Roger's dive into memory for answers is the essence of Helsinki, a monologue that touches upon his childhood and teenage encounters with Kool-Aid, late late shows like Kissin' Cousins on VHF channels, and the ubiquitous "Helsinki Formula" infomercials of the 1980s - starring Robert Vaughn.

As Roger tells the producers:

Vaughn played the host of a news show called Discover. And, damn, he was good. Vaughn convinced you that he was a skeptic, just seeking out facts about this mysterious concoction. The Helsinki Formula. What was it? What was the truth behind it? You had to convince Robert Vaughn.

The pitches that we all must make to advance (and even survive) in these dark times are at the center of Helsinki. As Roger notes:

I know just what you need. You need a Prospero. Sure, we're such stuff as dreams are made on. But how do we know our dreams? Who guides us to them? Shows them to us?

Shakespeare doesn't say the "stuff of nightmares." And we're the stuff of them, too, you know. Just look around you. So why did he say "dreams?" Because dreams expand reality. Activate our possibilities. But we need guides to show us how to what to wish for. What we want to make real.

Helsinki features New York actor Tony Travostino as Roger. The short film was directed by Andrew Bellware of Pandora Machine Films and produced by Laura Schlachtmeyer as a coproduction between 920 Productions and Pandora Machine. It was shot in a completely socially-distant manner, with the actor in New York City, the director in Jersey City, NJ, and the producer in Washington, DC using a hybrid of Zoom and other cameras and audio equipment.

This new play is the final work in a sequence of Plays Pandemical - five monologues written and shot through the first ten months of the global COVID-19 crisis. All five plays are now gathered on one page:

Richard Byrne's plays have been produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company, WSC/Avant Bard, and in the 2019 Capital Fringe Festival. He has won first prizes in the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival and the Prague Post Playwriting Festival. (

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