Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a play, or perform in one?
Well, thanks to West Hyler and Shelley Butler, now you can, and all you have to do is check your mailbox.
Earlier this year, Hyler and Butler, two successful theater directors who’ve worked on multiple Broadway productions, found themselves at loose ends after the pandemic shut down the productions they were working on. So the couple hopped into an RV with their 10-year-old son and took a long and winding journey to Greenville, where Hyler had once performed at The Warehouse Theatre and taught at the Fine Arts Center.
Along the way, the pair created and developed an innovative new theatrical concept called Artistic Stamp. Bringing together eight playwrights and more than 30 actors they’ve met over the years, Butler and Hyler devised a remarkable, interactive, and safe way to put on a play between just two people: an actor and a single ticket-buyer.
On the Artistic Stamp website, you can select a story, and once you’ve purchased your $99 ticket, begin correspondence with an actor playing a character from the story.
By writing letters back and forth to one another, the audience member and the actor carry out a six-letter story arc; the plot can go in multiple directions based on the ticketholder’s responses to the actor’s prompts.
The playwrights built multiple options into their stories, the actors can improvise based on the responses, and in effect the entire play is performed within the correspondence.
Hyler and Butler say that advancing the plot through writing letters, rather than sending emails or texts, was the key to making Artistic Stamp’s concept work.
“I think that it’s an art form that really has taken a backseat,” Butler says.
“How do we capture this live theater, human-to-human experience we love right now during COVID when you can’t gather together?” Hyler says. “And letter-writing has that. It is human-to-human. There’s no digital buffer in between you, and you share the same space, even if it’s the space of an envelope.”
And there can even be props.
“I could send objects that you can touch, like leaves,” Hyler says. “We can involve all the senses, and it feels like there’s a direct interaction.”
Working with their playwrights and actors remotely, Hyler and Butler presented eight different stories in Artistic Stamp’s first “season,” which began last summer. A ticket-buyer could choose to correspond with civil rights leader Ida Wells (played by actor Alexis Tidwell) in the 19th century, or help save the faerie realm with characters from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” all while helping to support actors, playwrights and directors during the pandemic.
“There’s a wide range of adventures, and they’re all marked with an interactivity scale,” Butler says. “So you decide, ‘Do I want to be part of a journey that asks a lot of me, or one where I can participate but sit back a little more?’ That first letter will come to you, and you’ll be told how to play that game, because it’s different for each show.”
Hyler says that the reaction to Artistic Stamp’s first season was overwhelming.
“We sold it out!” he says. “The response has been crazy. We’ve just put tickets on sale for season two, and then we’re going to start the letters out in January.”
For more information, visit https://artisticstamp.com