Speaking with Simon Evans on Zoom seems only natural. For the past year, Evans — like many of us — has been conducting much of his life over Zoom. But not just for office meetings or virtual happy hours. He is the co-creator, writer and co-star of "Staged," a BBC One comedy shot entirely on laptops and cellphones.
Available in the United States on Hulu, "Staged" is arguably the most successful series to emerge directly from the COVID-19 pandemic. Forced into lockdown, a theater director and a couple of actors have made a show about a theater director attempting to wrangle Zoom rehearsals from a pair of actors.
The premise of the show, which is scooping up awards in Britain, is simple: Having been scheduled to direct David Tennant ("Doctor Who," "Broadchurch") and Michael Sheen ("Frost/Nixon," "The Queen") in a play that is postponed by the COVID-19 lockdown, Evans attempts to begin rehearsals via Zoom.
The reality it reflects is a bit more complicated. Evans really is a theater director who was supposed to direct his first feature film in 2020. When the project was derailed by the lockdown, Evans and the film's producer, Phin Glynn, wanted to keep working.
"We tossed a number of terrible ideas around," Evans said. He had heard of directors using Zoom to keep rehearsals going, so he mentioned the idea to Glynn. But as a comedy, not a reality show.
They decided it would have to be two famous actors and a rather hapless director (played by Evans) trying to get through what at the time everyone believed would be a few months of isolation.
Networking pays off
Glynn had worked with Tennant, so he pitched the idea to him. Tennant had recently co-starred with Sheen in "Good Omens" and took the project to him.
The cast is bigger than just the three of them. Evans' sister, Lucy Eaton, is an actor, as are the wives of Tennant and Sheen, Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundburg, respectively. They're all playing characters based on themselves.
"We decided: Let's just make it," Evans said. "If we hate it, we'll just lump it in a drawer and never speak of it again. But we liked it, so we showed it to the BBC. And they liked it, and we were off to the races."
Audiences liked it, too, so much that the show got a second season. Both seasons consist of eight episodes that run about 20 minutes each — and every minute is DIY television.
"We did it all on laptops," Evans said. "We had phones recording sound and a few scenes. My sister's fiancé had a drone, not a really good professional one but good enough to shoot outside scenes of me cycling. That was it. There was nothing else. It was very fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants."
With the pandemic winding down, Evans isn't predicting how many more — if any — episodes will come. For one thing, he'd like to get back to his movie, plus the actors are starting to get scripts for potential projects.
"There's not yet an idea for making more, and everyone is getting busier," he said. "But we've talked about everyone's movements in the future. So we'll see; everyone's really touched with how it's been received."