“When We Were Young and Unafraid” could have been another victim of the pandemic. Set to open the week the state issued the shelter-in-place order, the show has been postponed since March. Now the production will go on as an audio play starting Friday.
Director Mystie Peters said the team considered waiting it out but realized time was not on their side. Filming the performance was also out since guidelines and safety concerns preclude actors from being able to perform in close proximity without masks.
Proving the third time's the charm, a brainstorming Zoom session with cast and crew led to the idea of an audio play.
Peters wrote in an email, "As a 'radio play,' the audience can use their imaginations and our narrated stage directions to visualize the actions while listening to the amazing performances put on by this cast and it felt like it fit a 1970s drama.
"My only regret is not getting to show off the set we made for Agnes' kitchen — it was an explosion of the ’70s!"
Set in an era when women were just finding their voices in the fight for their rights at home and in society, the show centers on Agnes (Julie Gaines), whose bed-and-breakfast has become a haven for those escaping domestic violence. The arrival of Mary Anne (Linsday Gunn), fleeing her abusive husband whom she loves, troubles the innkeeper who is wary of the young woman's influence on her daughter, Penny (Elise Esquibel). Another guest, Hannah (Claire Rock), has some radical views and challenges Agnes and other visitors.
Peters said the show was selected last fall as part of the theater's jubilee season, with a commitment to "showcasing traditionally marginalized voices, perspectives and stories."
"'When We Were Young and Unafraid' is both written by a woman (Sarah Treem) and the story is very female-centered," she wrote. "It also tackles hard to discuss topics like domestic violence and sexual assault.
"I felt that it was an incredibly important and topical work and I was very proud to be a part of it and help tell these stories with a female-led crew and wonderful cast."
That crew included assistant director Danielle Rodriguez, stage manager Alison Irvin and costume designer Dakota Polk, who worked with performer Esquibel on the looks, along with sound designer Alex Mitts and set designers Trenton Benet and Brian Purcell, who also serves as the show's narrator.
Presenting two ways of embracing feminism — Hannah's performative and radical stance and Agnes' quiet effort to aid women in need — and finding middle ground, the show brings a lot to today's audiences, Peters said.
"I think it is a very strong message to take to heart, especially right now," she wrote. "The performative aspect of anti-racism or feminism is great, as long as you can back it up with actions that are helping the women and BIPOC that you are working to stand up for."
In addition to purchasing access to the audio play, audiences can further support the theater as VIP guests. For $25, guests also receive a pack with goodies to snack on while listening to the show.
Peters wrote, "We wanted to give people their classic Empty Space experience as much as we could with the items that they would typically be able to get at the show: a program, candy, lemonade, water while also adding something very specific with our pumpkin-cardamom muffin, which is something showcased in the show and an item we were planning to sell during the original run of the show."
Also on tap are "Empty Space at Home" recipes for themed beverages (Flower Shop on the Lake, Agnes' Trap Door and The Mary Anne) to enjoy while listening to the show, a talkback on Facebook Live on opening night, "15 Minutes to Places" on Instagram Live with different cast members offering behind-the-scenes information each show night and a Zoom cast party on closing night.