Actors from around the world have come together for Umpqua Actors Community Theatre’s performance of “Help Desk,” streaming on Broadway on Demand over the next two weekends.
The play is comprised of 13 short scenes all about customers calling in to, usually, complain about something: stolen credit card, putting Ikea products together, can’t log into the internet, product in discrepancies. It isn’t that the complaints are far fetched, co-director Melody Schwegel said, but what the Help Desk agents say to assist the customer that adds to the comedy.
“I think we have all been on that help line call, you know, the one that has us questioning our sanity? I know I have. Many times. Usually from work and at the worst possible time!” Co-director Ashley Chitwood said.
When Chitwood and Schwegel realized they needed more performers for the upcoming comedy, they decided to seek out past UACT performers. A few calls later and they had performers from Ashland, Keizer, Portland, Oklahoma, Mexico and Switzerland. In total, 28 past and present UACT members have come together for 90 minutes of humorous entertainment.
Holding rehearsals with cast members in completely different time zones brokered a few difficulties that was never an issue in the past, when everyone could come together to practice.
“For performers who were on the east coast, we tried to get them in rehearsal as early as possible, as there is a two hour difference,” Schwegel said. “Rehearsing with Mario from Switzerland was different. We waited until 9:30 p.m. PST to rehears that particular scene, which meant that Mario was rehearsing at 6:30 a.m. in Switzerland.”
Mario del Cubo, who lives in Chur, Switzerland, plays customer assistant Boris, who Cubo said mostly spends his time “assisting customers by guiding them on a spiritual journey... and also stealing their credit card information.”
“It was an exciting challenge to participate in a play across the big pond. Most importantly, it was a great way to do something creative in this mind-numbing time and to encourage myself to get up early in the morning,” Cubo said.
Cubo isn’t the only non-local actor for this play. Iñaki Echeverria Zamora joined the production from Mexico and Melissa and Zackary Reed left Oregon in 2018 and now call Stillwater, Oklahoma home.
“We were really involved with UACT and missed it a lot. When Melody called and asked if we were interested in participating in this project, there was no hesitation! Of course we wanted to be apart of another UACT production!!!” Melissa Reed said. “Oh, I can’t tell you how nice it has been to work with Melody and our UACT family again! Seeing everyone’s faces (even just in Zoom) was so nice and definitely made the whole experience and all the work we put in worth it!”
Each actor was chosen for a specific reason, Chitwood said. They was given a specific part because of their strengths. Some are amazing at comedic timing, while others, she said, are “fantastic at facial acting.”
Actors also got their own dose of comedy during rehearsals. Frozen performers due to bad internet, cats jumping up on the camera and dogs barking in the background helped break any tension that came from less rehearsal time or learning new things.
“It’s a challenge not being able to act and react physically off the energy of whomever you’re acting with, so Zoom has presented a unique challenge,” Roseburg resident Sam Starns said. “Keeping that energy up when you’re alone in front of a computer screen has been a growth opportunity.”
For Portland newcomer Melissa Hartman, holding the play virtually allowed her to come out of her shell.
“This is the first play that I have participated in, I get stage fright, so this was easier than I thought it would be,” Hartman said. “Even though Covid has separated us, I got the opportunity to hang out with my sister (Director, Melody Schwegel) and participate in a way that made me feel comfortable and close to her at the same time.”
“Help Desk” will stream on Broadway on Demand Friday, Saturday and Sunday March 12-21. Tickets are $5. For more information, visit www.uact-theatre.com.
“My hope for this show was two fold; first I am so glad we had the opportunity to reach out and give so many actors a chance to practice their craft and use some of that bottled up energy we’ve all been harboring for the last year! Secondly, I am hoping this show will bring our community some much needed laughter and entertainment, even if it is only an hour or so,” Chitwood said. “The fact that its in your own home and on your own time schedule is a huge plus!”