Over the chaotic course of 2020, the Island community was forced to ask itself, “How do we come together while staying apart?” We never fell short of solutions, whether they be Zoom events among friends or masked gatherings in the great outdoors. Even in socially distant times, we found ways to connect.
As we navigate 2021, there are only bigger and better COVID-safe opportunities ahead (we’ve learned quite a bit since that first quarantine, after all). For the minds behind COVID Monologues MV, these opportunities are boundless, and taking advantage of them is necessary.
COVID Monologues MV is a self-described collaborative project which aims to connect our Island through self-expression. The project encourages anyone and everyone to put their pandemic experience into a creative work, and share that work with the community through workshops, readings, and eventually, a theatrical production. Media of all kinds are welcomed, from traditional dramatic monologues to instrumental music.
The project is the creation of co-producers Jennifer Knight of Mamas Ignite, Moira Silva of Silva’s Writing Workshops, and Kevin Ryan of Island Theater Workshop.
“It seemed like one of those things that was just meant to be,” said Silva. Being longtime friends, she and Knight were catching up one autumn day when Knight shared her idea for a theatrical production she’d conceptualized over the summer. The production would ideally capture the many voices and stories of the Island community amid the pandemic. Silva, who had been teaching virtual writing courses since the start of quarantine, had been reading COVID-related stories from her students for months. Upon realizing this perfect intersection of theater and written work, Silva suggested a collaboration to Knight.
“We had that conversation and shared our brief visions with each other, and then she sent me a text the next day,” said Knight. “It’s like the idea had been in a cocoon, and it was this mushy mess that the caterpillar becomes before it becomes a butterfly. When we got together, it gave it that final push it needed to really emerge.”
Together, Knight and Silva have already hosted three dramatic readings since November: two in-person at the M.V. Museum and one via Zoom. Additionally, Ryan has held two dramatic reading workshops for those looking to improve their theatrics, while Silva’s Writing Workshop focuses on the craft. “Once people write their monologues, they submit them, and [Ryan] has been giving anyone who participates in our readings a Zoom workshop about dramatic readings,” said Knight. “That’s been really well received by the writers and readers.”
With all this action, there’s still plenty of time to participate in COVID Monologues MV. Submit a creative work by March 12 to participate in any of the three events coming next month: a creative coaching workshop with Knight, a dramatic reading workshop with Ryan on March 16, and a virtual Zoom reading on March 20.
The plans for COVID Monologues MV don’t stop there — the project will continue through the spring and summer of 2021. Though the March 20 event will be COVID Monologues MV’s final reading, participants will have until April 20 to submit a written or recorded piece. All pieces will be considered for a final compilation of creative works — a script for COVID Monologues MV’s theatrical production. With auditions taking place in late spring, Silva and Knight said, they expect the production to premiere this summer with options for both live and virtual viewing. The pieces chosen will also be compiled into a book this fall.
With so much to accomplish, starting the project was a bit daunting for the co-producers. According to Knight, it was encouragement from Laurel Reddington at WMVY Radio that sparked some necessary early motivation. “Our vision from the beginning was to do a bunch of these readings, and a theatrical production, and to compile a book,” said Knight. “Even though our vision was always that big, when [Reddington] really embraced our idea and was excited about it, for me, that gave it some validation — that there was a need and an interest in our community.”
Sure enough, COVID Monologues MV has flourished since its start, with an ever-growing community of creatives. “We didn’t know what to expect from a Zoom event,” said Knight of the project’s first virtual reading, “but including the nine participants who were reading, we had 62 accounts logged in for that Zoom call.”
“The comments we got were really grateful for the different stories that were shared, and for the time to sit and listen, and feel connected and not alone,” said Knight.
Silva agreed, noting how even in a virtual environment the event lent itself to community connection. “In hearing these stories, you hear something of your own. It feels good to think, ‘I’m not the only one who felt that lonely, or worried,'” said Silva. “We all knew there would be a lot of art that came out of the pandemic, and it feels exciting to be a part of that art.”
Looking ahead to the next reading, COVID Monologues MV strongly encourages anyone, regardless of age or experience, to submit their work. “Our Island is not a homogenous place, and I know we would really like to see more stories from all socioeconomic backgrounds, from all races, from all ethnicities,” said Knight.
COVID Monologues MV also offers alternative ways to participate in the project. “If someone has a story but doesn’t feel comfortable writing it down, or they want to send us a recording, or they want us to call them and have someone else write it down, we can do that,” said Knight. “We want to make it as accessible as possible.”
Now four months into the project, Knight and Silva each expressed immense gratitude for the continued support of participants, donors, and the Island community. “The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has been extremely supportive, providing us with a location for the in-person events, and doing all the ticketing,” said Knight. “Having them host and sponsor our first two readings was amazing.”
Silva acknowledged generous contributions from Tea Lane Associates and Rosbeck Builders, as well as one anonymous donor. “We’ve received some kind donations, but we’re definitely looking for sponsors as we continue to do this work,” said Silva.
Co-producers and participants alike have found a certain solace through COVID Monologues MV. “I think [Knight and I] have both found that as much as we’ve given to the project, we’ve gotten back, and it’s been so satisfying and joyful,” said Silva.