At the kickoff event for the show “The Birth of Paper,” performers in Lebanon and the United States gathered online to read poetry, share personal stories, sing folksongs, show artwork, and cast spells. This innovative interactive theater project aims to bridge two vibrant artistic cities: Pittsburgh and Beirut.
“The Birth of Paper” organizers started recruiting pen-pal participants in both cities this spring, and the project will culminate in series of Zoom-based performances set to run June 24 to 29. The play is part of a five-month “theater by mail” festival, and it is both a response to Beirut’s humanitarian crisis and a “love letter to the postal service.”
This broader series is called “Post Theatrical,” and it is being organized by the Pittsburgh-based theater company RealTime Interventions. A dozen troupes have contributed works to the series, all of which have something to do with the mail. “The Birth of Paper,” which is built around letters and care packages traveling from Pittsburgh to Beirut, is the festival’s final show.
At its June 9 launch event, Molly Rice, a playwright and RealTime’s artistic director, said that she wrote the first iteration of “The Birth of Paper” in 2003. In that case, she was linking Texas and New York. At the end of that show, she gave audience members an address and asked them to write to her. “I received mail for two years,” Rice said.
For Rice, the after-effects of that performance underlined how eager theater audiences were to make and sustain connections. So when the Covid-19 shutdowns made in-person theater impossible, Rice again thought of long-distance theater. She also thought of the “birth of paper,” she said, because paper gave people “a way to communicate from far away, much like the technology we’re using now, Zoom.”
With those two ideas in mind, Rice decided, “If we’re going to do distance theater, why not really do distance theater and connect with Beirut?”