AMERICAN THEATRE MAG: Turn Off Your Phone, Check Your Mailbox

a stack of various color envelopes and paper with writing, orange wax seal
Photo: Letters from the Artistic Stamp

"...In Philadelphia, EgoPo Classic Theater is reimagining its 2020-21 season, called “Isolations,” with interactive and socially distant theatre shows. Among the offerings is Emily, a mail event created by Brenna Geffers that explores the life of Emily Dickinson.

“We were looking for different delivery modes of theatre, all of which were completely safe within social distancing, but also reimagining the way that audiences could interact,” explains artistic director Lane Savadove. “Not just on the form side, on the content side as well—we were looking to make pieces that were a reflection of the isolation experience.”

Who better to represent the isolation experience than the famously reclusive Emily Dickinson?  For the project, 200 households signed on to receive five weeks of planned letters. (The first round is sold out, and the next round begins Oct. 26.) Participants are sent stationary and envelopes to correspond to one of the letters, and the final letter in the series will be a personalized response.

Geffers, who collaborated with designer Natalia de la Torre for the project, concedes that she wasn’t a big fan of Dickinson prior to digging into her oeuvre for research. “I feel like I now have a way deeper appreciation and understanding of somebody who’s actually very important in our literature and in our cultural history,” says Geffers, noting that the final letter in Emily debunks some common misconceptions about the author.

EgoPo believes the waiting period between mailings will add to the project’s 19th-century sensibility.  “It comforted me to think that it was probably true in Emily Dickinson’s time that mail was not arriving on schedule,” says Savadove with a laugh.  Another logistical hurdle was easily solved: “There’s an Emily Dickinson font that mirrors her very unusual handwriting,” says Geffers.

The trend for plays by mail is growing, and as the winter looms, epistolary theatre will be a great way for people to connected while cooped up indoors. “We’ve been given a gift by having to reimagine how we tell our stories and why we tell our stories,” says Geffers. “So it’s very much our responsibility to take advantage of this gift and do something good with it.”

- Allison Considine, American Theatre Magazine


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