And so it began…
It was August of 2020. The majority of the entertainment industry was shut down due to the pandemic. At the time, I was a single mom trying to keep my writing career going while homeschooling my four-year-old child. I kept reading articles about how hard it was for single people who were quarantined alone without an adult companion, and how difficult it was for parents who were locked in the house with their children 24/7. Yet I had the pleasure of experiencing BOTH of those realities simultaneously. Instead of waiting for someone else to write about it, I thought, why not do it myself?
There was so much trauma and devastation happening in real life that I knew the tone of the script had to be comedic. I had to find a way to bring some light and levity to an otherwise distressing reality. I was on my 1,000th game of make-believe with my preschooler and my one millionth time hearing, “Can I have a snack?” I knew I wasn’t alone and that if I wrote my truth it would resonate with many people. But I also knew I needed a bigger hook to draw the audience in…
At the time I was signed up for a matchmaking service that offered to set their clients up on virtual dates. The catch was –they were TOTALLY BLIND. All I knew ahead of time was the name of my date. There were no photos. No profiles. I would show up to the video chat having no idea who was going to be on the other side of the screen. Frankly, it was terrifying. But also a fun distraction from the monotony of quarantine. The dates ranged from “I think this man might be a serial killer” to “whoa, we have an intense and instant connection.” After I went on a few of these virtual dates, I had a lightbulb moment – this is a great way into a TV show! A newly divorced single mom blind dating for the first time in a decade. In the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. A virtual Sex and the City. I had the perfect concept for a new comedy series. But now what?
Bringing my vision to life…
As both my parents can attest to, I have always been an overachiever. When I was supposed to either write or direct a play to achieve my master’s degree, I ended up doing both. This project was no different. I didn’t just want to write a pilot – I wanted to produce an entire season of television. But how could I do that when it wasn’t safe to even be in the same room as my own mother?
Like most people at that time, my whole life had become virtual. All my work-related meetings. My exercise classes. My daughter’s preschool. Video chat was the way I connected with friends and family. It was the only way I felt safe to date strangers. Zoom was my main portal to the outside world. The question was -- could I shoot an entire TV series using video conferencing?
And the answer was – YES! It turns out whoever designed and wrote the code for Zoom made it the perfect tool for filmmaking (major shout out to whoever that genius or geniuses are)! I could have multiple laptops/cameras recording every take from different angles and individual audio files for each actor in a scene. This was particularly mind blowing. If you’ve ever shot a low-budget film, you know that your project lives or dies by the quality of your sound. Once I realized that I had an extremely user friendly way to shoot while keeping the cast and crew safe in their own homes, the project took off. I always knew I was going to be a Showrunner. But I never imagined that I would run my first show while I was locked in my house during a pandemic.
Virtually Single is my truth…
I decided that I wasn’t just going to write and produce this half-hour comedy series (along with an incredible group of all female producers). I was going to star in it too. I told you I am an overachiever! An overachiever with a SAG card and an innate love for performing.
In the early days and nights of quarantine, I had terrible insomnia and would binge-watch TV to pass the time. I devoured both seasons of Fleabag and then rewatched the entire series twice more. I was incredibly inspired by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She truly embodied the brilliant advice Michaela Coel gave at the EmmysÒ this year, “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable.” Fleabag was deeply relatable and, of course, hilarious. But also at times, it’s uncomfortable to watch because it feels like you’re in the scenes with Waller-Bridge. Ultimately, her vulnerability draws you in and keeps you riveted. She put herself out there in every way an artist can and her bravery struck a chord with me.
I knew I had to write what scared me. I had to put it all on the line. I was going through a harrowing but also humorous chapter of my life. Writing about that and then performing those scenes was profoundly cathartic. The truth was, a month after becoming a single mom, California went into lockdown. The survival of myself and family took precedence. Grieving the end of my marriage went to the backburner. But writing and acting in Virtually Single allowed me to dive deep into those emotional currents and swim in those shark-infested waters. It gave me a chance to heal.
The way I wrote and edited Virtually Single reflects the inner work I was doing while filming the series. The pace and rhythm of the first few episodes represents the way the lead character, Kaylee’s, brain works. When we first meet her, Kaylee avoids feeling pain and discomfort at all costs. Because of that, the scenes are short and constantly bounce around in a non-linear way between different parts of her life. But as the episodes progress, you watch her begin to open up and tear down her walls. And the pace of the show mirrors her growth. You’ll notice that scenes are longer in the second half of the season and the rhythm isn’t as frenetic. Both you and Kaylee get to sink into her honest and heartfelt emotions.
After shooting nine episodes, I became a stronger and more empowered woman in all aspects of my life. When you watch the show you are witnessing my actual metamorphosis in its rawest form. Making this series was magical, transformative, and utterly life-changing.
It takes a village….
As I connected with colleagues and friends, who were all out of work and as desperate for a creative outlet as I was, Virtually Single started to come together. I had a golden opportunity to collaborate with people I love in order to build something super unique and special.
In a departure from my previous experience writing for television, I cast each episode before writing it. So I had the very rare chance to write for specific actors – with their voices in my head as the words flowed onto the page. Once we were ready to shoot, every actor was their own crew. They were in all the prep meetings and had to help us with every aspect of production – location, lighting, props, wardrobe, hair/make-up, etc. We would rehearse a few days before shooting so we could workshop the scenes. Then I would do a rewrite based on the brilliant moments that came out of those rehearsals. On shoot days, the actors were allowed to go off-script in a “wild take.” I found myself using the majority of these takes in the final cut of each episode since they felt so authentic. Every single person involved in this project stepped up in such enormous ways. I feel so blessed and grateful that they took a leap of faith with me. Their high level of passion and investment is evident in every minute of the show.
The series is a hybrid of reality and fiction – half of it is scripted but the other half is filled with my real life. My parents and daughter are in the show. My actual friends play my Sex and the City squad. Half our scenes are improvised – so you get to be a fly on the wall as you watch conversations between women who genuinely love and respect each other. A few of the men I have blind dates with on the show were people I had real romantic connections with outside of filming. In fact, I met one of the actors on a dating app a few weeks before I cast him. After we shot our scene together I coined the experience, “How to lose a guy in two hours.”
Then, halfway through the season, an intensely emotional scene plays out between me and another actor, which changes the entire trajectory of the show. And possibly my life…
You’ll have to watch if you want to find out what happens next!
Virtually Single from writer/producer/actress Kate Sargeant (“Castle,” “Blindspot”) is streaming now on YouTube. A new episode will drop every Friday at 12 PM PST until the finale debuts on November 5.