ITHACA, NY -- Clockmaker Arts has risen to the challenge once again. Forged at the beginning of what would become the hell-storm of a year known as 2020, in their infancy the new theatre company found itself with quite the predicament: connect and create in a time where both aspects of human life seem to be more than unattainable.
The release of their second show, which premiered this past weekend, “What if, In a Snow Storm…” is the epitome of the challenges, and the triumphs, they, and us, have come to know throughout this infamous year.
Set in the most familiar of places for Ithacans, but also for anyone who has lived through it all, ‘What if’ tells the story of four roommates at the tail end of 2020 confined to some Zoom quality time as a snowstorm rages outside and isolates them from the world even further.
The play opens with the line, “What if in a storm, you saw clearly for the first time,” a line that stood out in the calm of the ice and snow of the mirrored world they created.
After adapting their debut show “What Haunts You” from its stage roots to a virtual performance earlier this summer, the team’s second go-about is a first for the company by writing a show that lives and breathes online in this new form of virtual entertainment. From the helms of the creative team behind Clockmaker Arts, the show is written by Elizabeth Seldin (who also acts in the show) and directed by Evie Hammer-Lester.
“When we were creating the show we had to struggle with the reality of Zoom theatre,” Seldin said. “It’s hard because I don’t particularly want to watch a virtual play—so why would I ask others to do that? But in a time where we crave connection, ultimately the alternative is not doing anything, and I’d rather share a story and connect with other people in the community than just sit at home watching The Crown.”
The themes of connection and disconnection run through this piece as it shows its four actors coming to terms with themselves and the world around them. The snowstorm, as raging and scary as it may be, provides them with some much needed time to decompress as people and as participants in this global pandemic.
Seldin appears as the self-proclaimed “captain” of the pandemic pod, Isabella. Complete with a short haircut and fingerless gloves that don’t inhibit her ability to play a ukulele with startling grace, Isabella threatens to be the heart of the show, and yet the other characters around her give her a run for that title.
Rounding out the cast of roommates are Carley Robinson as Rose, the walls-up member of their little community whose complicated feelings about her girlfriend being away for the night lead to the friends playing the namesake game: “What If?” During the game, straight guy Liam, played by NYC-bound Victory Chappotin, admits to not voting in the presidential election while the members of the group let out their “deep darks” and attempt to “get clean.”
Breaking out of the mold of the sassy gay best friend trope, Tyler Gardella’s Felix takes the emotional reins as the story progresses. One of the penultimate moments of the show finds him calling the voicemail box of a deceased relative and reminding the audience of all we’ve lost this year and the brave faces we don to keep going.
“Something that never changes is that I love actors,” Hammer-Lester said. “They do such incredible work since they are on their own through this process. The world we’ve created for ourselves lives with each of them, and they are their own dressers, and tech, and designers. And that part of enjoying actors and their work will always be there for me.”
All of the actors come together in a way that truly leaves you with a feeling of connection. Their commitment to their craft and to the narrative propels the show further regardless of personal feelings about the merit of Zoom theatre.
“Nothing will ever replace live theatre, but what we’re learning through this process is that we’re able to work with people we wouldn’t normally have had the chance to connect with,” Gardella said. “Whatever the format, if you’re meant for the work and the work is meant for you, you’re still going to feel it.”
In the end, relationships shift and new secrets are revealed that color our perceptions of the characters, and whether or not those specific aspects and dynamics are relatable to the viewer, seeing the trials and tribulations of life in quarantine represented through this new form of entertainment is something special and unique and something not to be missed.