Coronavirus – The Contest
By Robert Moore
SYNOPSIS: It is Spring, 2021, and the Coronavirus is fading. Multiple vaccines are available, each slightly different. Playwrights are submitting their work to a contest, ‘Life in the Pandemic’.
SETTING: Hallway in a school or theatre. The Registrar sits at a folding table, at one end of which are three stacks of paper, (sorted scripts). A large sign is posted six feet from the table, readable to the audience, saying ‘Safe Distancing – 6 ft’. The Playwrights appear, presenting their submissions to the competition. Stage is otherwise empty.
These parts are gender and age fluid.
PLAYWRIGHT 1 enters carrying a manuscript under one arm, plastic bag with rolls of toilet paper, stops by the sign that says ‘Safe Distancing’. Registrar puts on mask.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Is this the registration desk for the Life in the Pandemic Play competition?
REGISTRAR: Yes it is. Mask on, please. Or have you been vaccinated?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Yes, I’ve been vaccinated.
REGISTRAR: (removes mask) Oh, goody. Me too. Which one? Moderna? Oxford? Pfizer? Wuhan-Supreme? Walmart?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Pfizer.
REGISTRAR: How long ago? If it’s more than three weeks you need a booster.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Got it four days ago. (Extends folded page) Here’s the receipt.
REGISTRAR: You have a fifty dollar co-pay?
PLAYWRIGHT: Health insurance is a bitch
REGISTRAR: I got the Wuhan-Supreme. I recommend it, when it’s time for your booster. And I think they’ve cleared up the skin rash problem. It’s good for six months and my vision is almost back to normal.
Playwright walks to the table, Registrar hands him a clipboard.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: What attracted me to the Pfizer was the side effect of weight loss. I gained thirty pounds during the lockdown. Lost it all in a week. Most of it in the bathroom.
REGISTRAR: (with obvious distaste) Please complete the application. There’s a $20 registration fee. Is that what I think it is?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: (Holding a bag of toilet paper) The instructions I saw said either twenty dollars or five rolls of toilet paper.
REGISTRAR: What brand?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Wal-Mart.
REGISTRAR: We prefer Scottissue. Do you have any Scottissue?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: It doesn’t say here it has to be Scottissue.
REGISTRAR: I shouldn’t have written these rules last April. Okay, let me have ‘em. With the price on ebay now…not worth the shipping cost.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Lot of people paying in toilet paper?
PLAYWRIGHT 1 quickly fills in application, hands it to the Registrant.
REGISTRAR: Okay, name, address, email… very good.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: I think I’ve captured the whole experience. The terror of schools closing, from a parent’s point of view, fear of groceries, fear of mail, handwashing, endless handwashing, the threat of liquor stores closing, then they become essential businesses, but churches remain closed, running out of alcohol gel, buying toilet paper online, five dollars a roll. Don’t wear masks, then for the love of God, wear MASKS! And then, Phase 2, the first stores opening, hair-cuts, joy to the world! It’s all here.
REGISTRAR: (flipping through many pages). It sure is.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: I realize we’re all working with the same set of facts, but I think mine’s very original.
REGISTRAR: Everyone thinks they’re original.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Do you see the point of view? It’s told by a Narrator who-
REGISTRAR: Yes, who’s a Coronarvirus cell. That puts it here. (Indicates the tallest of three stacks.)
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Oh. All of those plays are from the point of view of the virus?
REGISTRAR: Yep. Lot of first person narratives.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: What about the others?
REGISTRAR: Oh, well. These are all from the point of view of a grocery check-out clerk. Actually a couple of real good comedies in there. These, these are a bit grittier, are from the point of view of hospital personnel. Most are told from the nurses’ view, a few from doctors. And from EMTs. Tough reading.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: I see. Wish I’d thought of that. How about that pile?
REGISTRAR: Those. Those are from the viewpoint of victims. Living and dead. A few good comedies there, too.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Well, I still think I’ve got something good here.
REGISTRAR: How big is your cast?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Between seven and forty-three.
REGISTRAR: Forty-three? Hmmm. You’ve got someone playing the Virus, someone as Dr. Fauci, an ER doctor, a nurse, an ambulance driver, a victim. And… oh, I see. You’re got a scene in a lung and you’ve got 37 white blood cells as a clot. Little advice. First thought, if you insist on live casting, cast all the blood cells with kids. You’ll sell out, parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents. Different angle, stick with the first six characters and just describe the clot, point off stage. Or paint a backdrop. Make it more theatrical. It’s hard to put thirty-nine people on stage in a quick, orderly manner. And then you’ve got costumes to make.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Well, I considered that, of course. This isn’t my first work. But I’m picturing those blood cells are all mimes. They are all doing their own thing, really make that blood clot vivid.
REGISTRAR: Well, you can probably get thirty seven mimes. How long is this play? One act, three scenes. Sixty-seven pages? You could break it up a little. Two acts. Give the audience a pee-break?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: No, you’re missing a key point. The audience has to stay in their seat for the spiritual equivalent of three months. Just like the Northeast lockdown.
REGISTRAR: But the people did have access to bathrooms, correct? You didn’t tell me this was a musical.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: It isn’t, there’s just one song. My girlfriend wrote it. She’s really good.
REGISTRAR: I’m sure she is.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: (Tune: Sounds of Silence) Hello, virus, my old friend, I won’t be hospitalized again, I’ve got a vaccine and it’s kicked your ass-
REGISTRAR: Thanks, thanks, we don’t do accapella here.
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Hi, this is where I sign up for the contest?
REGISTRAR: Yes it is. Ooh, I don’t see toilet paper.
PLAYWRIGHT 2: No, I thought I’d pay in cash.
REGISTRAR: Cash is king! Were you vaccinated?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: No. I know better. There is no such thing as a vaccination.
REGISTRAR: Ooookay, safe distancing then. (Pulls on mask) And I hope you brought a mask? Please fill this out.
Hands over registration form. Playwright 2 roots around in pockets, finds a crumpled mask. Registrar picks up manuscript, spritzes it with a spray bottle. Playwright 1 steps six feet away.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Hi. Your play looks a little shorter than mine.
PLAYWRIGHT 2: (Faces toward audience, pulls down mask) It’s thirty-two divine, exquisite pages. One act, four scenes.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Any specific point of view?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Yes. God’s.
PLAYWRIGHT and REGISTRAR: God?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Yes. I call mine, Infinite Judgment. From on high, God is looking down in great disappointment at how we’ve run the world and decides it’s time to start over. Again. I drew inspiration from the Great Flood, Noah’s Ark. Instead of 40 Days of Rain, we got Covid.
REGISTRAR: Can I skim it?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Oh, please do.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Is this your first play?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: My first set in a secular setting. I’ve written forty-seven devotional works. Most are one person shows, in which I cast myself. This is the first multi-character performance I’ve penned. And I thought, it deserves a wider audience than just my flock.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: How big is your flock?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Well, it varies. At present, seven. Online, millions.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Is that a count or estimate?
PLAYWRIGHT: 2: Enough of this. What do you think?
REGISTRAR: You have a cast of three. God, The Devil, and Man. Nice to keep it simple. Page count… thirty-two pages. I see the dialog is mostly between God and The Devil. Man says “amen” about… at least twenty times. And there’s just one setting. Seems like a trial, a courtroom? Easy staging. Uh. Covid. I see one mention of it. It’s otherwise The Scourge?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Precisely. Call a thing what it is.
REGISTRAR: Can’t argue with you there. Anything in here of…a medical or earthly setting? Anything about daily life during the Pandemic?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: These are petty issues. I’m taking on epic themes.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: I’m looking a little better now, aren’t I?
REGISTRAR: Well, we wanted more of a life on Earth approach. His is still easier to cast.
Playwright 3 approaches with a bag of tissue
PLAYWRIGHT 3: Is this where I register for the Pandemic Play Festival?
REGISTRAR: Yes it is. Do you have the fee?
PLAYWRIGHT 3: I have Scottisue!
REGISTRAR: Oh, goodie. Were you vaccinated?
PLAYWRIGHT 3: I was. Pfizer and Moderna. I did both.
Playwright 2 snorts in derision.
REGISTRAR: Excellent. Please complete this
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Hi, I’m also registered. How long is your play?
PLAYWRIGHT 3: Twenty pages. Three scenes. First scene, set in a lab. It’s about the development of the vaccine.
PLAYWRIGHT 2: So, a work of fiction!
PLAYWRIGHT 3: No, not at all.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: His play is God and the Devil, and Covid instead of a great flood.
REGISTRAR: Let’s be professionals. You are all artists, all points of view are valid. The judges will be responsible for any… judgment. And, I suppose I should mention this, I will be one of the judges.
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Oh, jeez. So yours is set in a lab. Are you a scientist?
PLAYWRIGHT 3: I am, a chemist. And I was part of the team that developed the Oxford vaccine.
PLAYWRIGHT 2; I thought you said you had the Pfizer, Moderna vaccinations
PLAYWRIGHT 3: Health insurance is a bitch. My insurance wouldn’t cover my own company’s vaccine, which has no side effects so far. It did pay for the other two. It’s okay, the side effects were manageable. After the week of diarrhea, I had the Pfizer migraine – now we know not to mingle Pfizer and Moderna, not without chocolate milk. The migraine led to some hair loss. This is a wig. But it’s growing back. Just, not the same color.
REGISTRAR: Your play is one of the shortest, which works in its favor. Cast: Chemist, Biochemist, Pharmacologist, Doctor, and Lab Tech. Non gender specific, that’s very helpful when casting. And costumes, just lab coats, I guess? Also helpful. Three scenes. First scene is…discovery of the virus. Funny, I’d think you’d want to finish with that. Warm up with a scene introducing the characters?
PLAYWRIGHT:3: Keep reading!
REGISTRAR: Okay, scene two… the Staff Meeting. You’re following Robert’s Rules of Order? And then… there’s an argument about protocols. And SOP. What’s SOP?
PLAYWRIGHT 3: S-O-P. Standard Operating Procedure. Very important in a lab.
REGISTRAR: Right, but this is a play. Another argument… ah, everybody wants to be the first author on the paper.
PLAYWRIGHT 3: This gets down and dirty!
REGISTRAR: Let’s jump to the last scene. Ah. Announcement of the Vaccine. And you begin by announcing the scientists who were part of it. Wow. That’s a lot of names. That… fills three pages. And that’s the whole scene. Are all these names necessary?
PLAYWRIGHT 3; A vaccine is a team effort.
REGISTRANT: I’m sure it is…
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Sounds like the ending to all the Star Wars flicks.
PLAYWRIGHT 2: Is the judging going to be on the script mechanics? Or with content?
REGISTRANT: Both. Are you thinking you might want to rewrite and give Man a few more lines? I do think your play would be more competitive if it had a scene in daily life. Want to give it a try?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: I was considering adding a scene. It takes place in Hell. Maybe… I can set it on a subway car.
REGISTRANT: Very creative! The deadline is in two hours, fifteen minutes. How fast do you work?
PLAYWRIGHT 2: I’ll be back in five. When one is channeling the Holy Spirit, the writing does itself.
PLAYWRIGHT 3 : That’s convenient. Do you know how long it took to get through all those names with spell-check?
PLAYWRIGHT 1: Incidentally, the instructions don’t specify the final prize. Any clues?
REGISTRANT: Well, I was going to do cash. But I think we’re going in another direction. Looks at the stack of toilet paper.