Lights, Zoom, Action: Keizer Homegrown Theatre gears up for digital production

Actress Cathy Willoughby with rabbit Edward Tulane.

Keizer Homegrown Theatre is diving into the world of digital productions. 

Under the direction of Jeff Minden, the troupe will stage online The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane adapted by Dwayne Hartford from the book by Kate DiCamillo. 

In an effort to provide live theater and adhere to safety regulations, Keizer Homegrown’s organizers started looking for shows that had licensing rights that included streaming in addition to live productions.

“I read the script and just fell in love with it,” Minden said.

Miraculous Journey follows the story of a rabbit named Edward Tulane who, over the course of the show, goes on adventures and learns how to love.

The cast is made up of three men and three women, who play multiple parts throughout the show. Rather than schedule auditions, Minden called up actors he’d worked with in the past to join him in the strange new world of digital theater.

“I had been in another show that he directed so he knew what I could do,” said cast member Cathy Willoughby. Willoughby plays the role of Traveler, as well as the Pellegrina, Margory, and the Watchman.

“He just had a vision in mind of who would play who and put it together,” said Tommy Kuchulis, the actor who plays the titular Edward Tulane.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the play will be taking place over Zoom. The actors will have a four-way Zoom call which will be live-streamed to a website where viewers can watch the show. There is no maximum number of attendees.

“It’s very different than when you’re in a normal production during non-COVID times,” Willoughby said. One of the hardest things for her is not being able to feed off other actors energy and body language over Zoom in the same way she can on stage.“It’s a different skillset, I think, that is required for using Zoom as a tool, but it is also a great challenge for an actor in a good way.”

Because the play is being produced with as little person-to-person contact as possible, actors had to learn how to light their portions of the production at home. 

“It’s been a learning experience for the actors having to think about things that normally somebody else takes care of,” Minden said. Actors also have to mute themselves, turn their videos on or off to simulate entrances and exits and how to manage other technical details.

“It’s different but it’s almost the same,” Kuchulis said. “It’s still really an escape like theatre was.”

The family-friendly show was adapted from a children’s book and, according to the cast, has a lot of heartwarming moments.

“I love redemptive stories. This is one where we learn about a character who needs a little bit of help understanding love,” Willoughby said.

Kuchulis said he has lots of favorite moments in the show.

“Edward goes through a transformation and becomes, for a brief period, Susanna. I thought it was a fun part of the play,” Kuchulis said – he didn’t expanded further for fear of spoilers.

The first showing, which will be Zoom-ed live, is on Saturday, Sept. 12. That show will be re-streamed on Friday, Sept. 18. 

Information about how to view the show and tickets are available online at Tickets are free but the theater is asking for donations.

“We still have to pay rent on our space, still have to pay our utilities, so the donations are to help keep us afloat so we can also get though these hard times and be sure we’re able to produce live theatre when it’s safe to do so again,” Minden said.