Friday, August 21, 2020

“WordPlay” with Kwame Alexander

When author/friend/force of nature Kwame Alexander asks you to guest star in the first episode of a new show he created, you do it. Even during a pandemic. 

Yes, to film a kidlit show, I had to reenter society—one small outpost of it, for a little bit. We shot the episode in Washington DC on June 27, the first day since March 14 I’d entered a public building that didn’t sell Raisin Bran.

The show is called WordPlay. It’s a high-energy series designed to help kids develop and write their own stories. The first season is 10 episodes. It will run on the Adventure Academy platform and perhaps elsewhere down the line. 

Of course, protection protocol was in full effect. Upon entering the studio, my temperature was checked by one of those gadgets that was on Star Trek but with a different purpose. Handshakes and hugs are so 2019. 

Masks on throughout, with three exceptions:

1) Makeup. I was asked to lower my mask for the few seconds something powdery was applied to my mouth area. I asked the makeup artist how her job has been impacted by COVID-19. She said broadcasters and other on-screen presenters are home instead of in the usual central locations but still in need of foundation, so there’s plenty of work. 

She recalled how the Joker infected people through tainted cosmetics in the 1989 Tim Burton blockbuster and asked me if I have seen any Batman movies.

Don’t worry—she didn’t poison me. And she did not know till she heard my interview with Kwame how funny it was that she asked me a question about Batman…

2) Eating. We lunched at small, socially-distanced square tables in the café area—ten or so people eating simultaneously on their own private islands. It was the least chatty group meal I’ve ever had.

3) Filming. For my main segment, Kwame and I were in separate rooms. I was in the green room by myself, talking to Kwame via laptop, which was recording. He was in a bigger studio space down the hall, with crew more than six feet away. 

Topic of the show: outlines. It was apt in a way beyond the writing process: so much of what we do now in everyday life must be outlined in advance, not to strengthen a story but rather to stay safe.

After that, they filmed a few bumpers/promos with Kwame and me in the same room, but still apart. Then two weeks later I filmed even farther away from Kwame—I was home, he was I don’t know where, and the show staff was on Zoom.

The trailer (keep an eye out for both Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and my head):

Thank you again to Kwame for the kind invite. It was an honor and a blast! Thank you again to Carmen and the WordPlay crew for making me feel so welcome and making it so fun. We’ll play again…

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