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Rust Belt hosts ‘Quarantine’ the musical online

Rust Belt hosts online show

What did you do while quarantined by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Robert Dennick Joki made more than a thousands masks and wrote a musical.

Those face masks kept the bills paid for Rust Belt Theater Company as it was forced to cancel several productions, and “Quarantine: A Socially Distant Musical” will allow Joki and his friends to perform for a virtual audience, if not a live audience at the Calvin Center.

“It’s all new material, all inspired by the experience of going through the stay-at-home order and experiencing everything through a computer or television,” he said.

Joki wasn’t immediately inspired by the situation. He experienced insomnia and a “very deep depression,” made worse by the death of friends and not being able to experience the closure that comes from a funeral or memorial service.

“After a month I felt like, ‘Do I still exist anymore? Do I have a voice?’ It was eye opening because I never knew how much musical performance was a part of my life.”

In addition to sewing masks, Joki started to set aside time each day to write.

“I started with one song,” he said. “When I got to five, I started talking to people to see if they were interested in a virtual performance. I decided I wouldn’t announce it until I got to 10.”

He ended up writing 16 songs, including “Everything Is Terrible,” “We’re Not Getting Married Today,” “Maskmaker, Maskmaker,” “Stayin’ In Tonight,” “You Can Still Be A Ho On The Internet,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “White Knight” and “Murder Hornets.”

While all of the songs are inspired by events since March, Joki described “Quarantine” as being more of a musical revue than a musical with a narrative thread running through it.

“The only narrative arc is, at the beginning of this, there was a novelty to it — Oh, people are posting videos of stay-at-home dance parties and drag queens were performing in their living rooms,” he said. “As time wore on, people started to get a little stir crazy and things took a darker turn. Then George Floyd happened and things got even darker.

“That same thing happens in the show. It ends on a hopeful note, but each song is kind of self-contained.”

The cast features Nicole Zayas, Kage Coven, Lisa Torrence, Dean LaSalandra, Keith Stepanic, Wesley Miller, Jeremy Grimes, Tyler Hanes, Marisa Zamary, Lynn Sabeh, Austin Brown, Heather Powell, Celena Coven, Bernadette Lim and Joki.

Joki worked with the cast members individually and remotely, and only actors who were living together during the stay-at-home order appear together in the show. The arrangement gave the performers a lot of freedom to shape their characters.

“I really love to see what different performers can bring to the table,” he said. “A lot of times they’ll surprise me. People will do something I didn’t see and don’t necessarily agree with 100 percent, but it grows on me and turns out to be one of my favorite things in the show.”

This will be Rust Belt’s second online performance. The musical “Miss Tuesday Night” was supposed to open the week stay-at-home directives were issued, so the cast did the show live on Facebook and collected about $1,200 in donations to its GoFundMe campaign.

“Quarantine” is being recorded and edited, and it will be uploaded to Rust Belt Theater Company’s Facebook page in four parts at 8 p.m. Once again, donations can be made to its GoFundMe page.

“I just really wanted this feeling of watching a Zoom meeting with people singing at their desks and in their bathrooms, and it would have been really hard to coordinate that live,” Joki said.

If you watch …

WHAT: Rust Belt Theater Company — “Quarantine: A Socially Distant Musical”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Posted to the Rust Belt Theater Company’s Facebook page

HOW MUCH: The musical is free to watch, but donations can be made to the theater company at Gofundme.com

/rustbelttheater2020.

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