Liz Whittaker spent three years telling herself that next year, she was going to write a show for the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival. And then COVID happened.
But in some ways, it was the perfect catalyst for creativity. “I knew I didn’t want to just do a reading of a play over Zoom,” Whittaker says. “I wanted to find a way for the digital media to be a part of the storytelling.” So she started imagining what that would look like.
In early July, she submitted her idea for a digital show seen through the eyes of a pandemic dating app. The half-hour long story follows Hero Lovelace (played by Whittaker), as she downloads the imaginary app “Sparkmate” and swipes through potential matches in an effort to find connection in a time of isolation.
The show had to be rehearsed and filmed in isolation as well. Rehearsals and meetings took place mostly over Zoom, and when it came time to shoot a scene, Whittaker simply recorded the Zoom call. “Every scene is done in one take,” she says. “Even if there are imperfections, that reflects the reality of trying to make meaningful connections over video chat.” The final product is really more like a theatre-film hybrid.
The show is filmed and viewed vertically—audiences watch the action from the perspective of Hero’s phone itself…as if viewers were trapped inside of the dating app “Sparkmate.”
And The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival is the perfect venue for an experimental project like this one. It was also an opportunity for artists and actors to connect in a time when live, indoor theatre isn’t safe. Whittaker’s friend and roommate Ali Lente plays the Hero’s roommate, the confident and encouraging Delilah. (Lente and Whittaker met doing a Fringe show together three years ago.) The show also stars standup comedian and actor Aaron Woodall, and actors Patrick Harris and Tyler Fox.
Whittaker also brought her friend and collaborator Kailey Azure Green on to do intimacy coordination for one brief scene with some sexual content. Both Whittaker and Green are trained intimacy directors and coordinators, but coordinating intimacy for a project you also star in isn’t ethical. “I can’t think of anyone I trust more for this,” Whittaker says of Green. “She’s got both the training and the artistry to bring this scene to life.”
Audiences will have only two opportunities to view the show—Friday, July 31st at 9:00 PM and Friday, August 7th at 10:00 PM. The show can be found on the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival’s website at https://www.greatsaltlakefringe.org/attend. While viewing is free, there is a $5 suggested donation that can be sent via Venmo to @Liz-Whit. The proceeds will be split evenly among those involved in the project.