SAN FRANCISCO—On Monday, June 1, Playground, a nonprofit organization that is a leading playwright incubator and theater community hub is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a livestream festival.

Playground Zoom Fest, scheduled from May 11- June 14, will showcase 140 workers and include 25 live streamed events via the video-conferencing platform Zoom. It will include three fully produced premiere presentations, 13 readings of top short and full-length plays, a Zoom Town Hall, and a closing night party.

Jim Kleinmann, artistic director and co-founder of Playground, along with playwrights and play incubator programs, has developed distinctive ways to recognize and promote some of the best new writers, while building a foundation and networking pool to help these writers in the Bay Area succeed.

When it came time to do this year’s festival, the need for social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic presented both challenges and opportunities for innovation.

“Playground will continue to be nimble and digital will be a part of storytelling methods because we discovered in doing the event that it helped break down some of the barriers that made it difficult for artists to participate and for audience to engage” said Kleinmann in a phone interview with The San Francisco News.

Case in point, getting the right actors. “The advantage of the Zoom program is that we are able to hire actors in New York and Los Angeles,” said Kleinmann. This year’s festival includes several actors who are no longer in the Bay Area but are in New York City.

Kleinmann explained that the group usually works with about 40 playwrights each year in the Bay Area and an additional 30-40 in Los Angeles. Playground’s alumni network includes 80 writers in the past year and more than 250 writers in the past 20 years.

Beyond just the actors, Playground has faced certain challenges with conveying things from stage to screen.

“The biggest challenges with a play being produced in a theater; you have body language, you have business on stage that sometimes could be conveyed with a look or a hand on the knee or shoulder,” playwright Genevieve Jesse said in a phone interview. “So we don’t have any of that to rely on anymore. It’s a challenge on the actors to get that same sentiment when all we can see is a limited view.”

With the livestream adaptation by Playground, the organization believes it has created another way for artists and audience to engage with plays.

General admission will be free throughout the Playground Zoom Festival, but 3 programs will be charged at $15. Those 25 or younger can purchase admission for $10.