The COVID-19 pandemic gave people a different way of looking at relationships. That’s something star, writer and producer Kate Sargeant brought to life vividly in her web series Virtually Single. The episodes follow Kate’s character Kaylee as she goes on a series of virtual dates, some of them better or more haphazard than others, and re-learns things about the dating landscape—as well as things about herself.
What makes the series stand out, though, is how lively it is. There are the funny jokes and the slightly off-beat characters, sure, but Kate has created a show where viewers can see her creativity and the creativity of everyone else around her come through. You can tell how much fun they had putting it together, and how much they were able to do within relatively limited parameters, and that’s something special. I recently spoke to Kate and co-star Joe Williamson about the charming escape that is Virtually Single and what made it so memorable for both of them.
“I’m a little bit of an overachiever,” Kate laughed when explaining how she started with the idea. “I chose to write something for myself, so I always knew I was going to be in it. I’ve been acting since I was a kid, and I just love performing. That’s where the true passion started was being in front of the camera, being on stage, auditioning as an actor. The writing came after that…I’ve worked really hard to write and to have a successful writing career, but the acting has always kind of come easy for me. I want to be able to do both, which is why I got the chance to do this project.
“I thought ‘All right, I’m just going to do everything. I’m going to produce. I’m going to write, I’m going to be in it.’ I was smart enough to hire directors,” she continued. “My feeling was, if I was also directing, then in those scenes I wasn’t going to be fully present as an actor—I was going to be thinking with half my brain as the director, going ‘Hey, did I get everything I needed? Did all that make sense? How does the lighting look?’ And I just wanted to be able to fully commit to the scene and not have to think about all the technical aspects of it.”
While it’s increasingly common for talent to create and drive their own projects, Kate took Virtually Single one step further when she made the bold decision to not only base it on her real-life relationship experiences but to incorporate some of those elements into Kaylee’s fictional story.
“I kept reading about single people who were quarantined by themselves without any adult companionship and how difficult that was. Then I was reading articles about parents being locked at home with their kids, with nothing to do and nowhere to go and being driven crazy by that,” she recalled. “I was having both of those experiences simultaneously, because as a single mom I was alone in my house without adult companionship, and I was locked in the house with my kid.
“I thought, I really want to be the one to bring this experience to the forefront and say ‘Hey, there’s some really humorous parts of this. There’s some really difficult parts of this.’ I want to be able to tell the story of what my experience was going through that time. I knew people would be able to relate to it. Whether you’re single, married, have kids, don’t have kids, I think there’s something for everybody in the show where they can go ‘I relate to that. I experienced that. I definitely understand what she went through.’ I wanted to make it as real as possible. When you watch the show, I wanted it to feel almost like you were a fly on the wall in my life. That you’d hacked into my computer, hacked into my phone, and you were experiencing my real conversations with my friends, with my intimacy coach, with my parents, with my dates, obviously.
“I wanted the line to blur between reality and fiction. I wanted the audience never to really quite know—wait, is this real, or is this fiction?” Kate added. “I think that hybrid makes the show really unique. You can write a Sex in the City type show and I wanted to do that, but I also wanted to break new ground and do something that I hadn’t seen before. This kind of hybrid between scripted and non-scripted felt unique and different and special to me.”
A natural part of that process was to cast people that she knew, including Joe, who stands out in the series as Jackson. The All Rise veteran signed on to Virtually Single before he’d even seen the script due to their longstanding friendship. “I’ve known Kate for years now,” he explained. “When I met her, she was in casting. And then she got into writing and producing and she got me involved in something called Young Storytellers, where we would go to elementary schools and help kids put on one-act plays. So when she calls, I just normally say yes. I think she’s really talented and she’s a really good person. I knew it would be fun.”
“I was super lucky with the show,” Kate recalled. “I did this backwards; usually you write an episode and then you cast it…I just reached out to all my actor friends who weren’t working because the industry was basically shut down in September of 2020. So I cast it before I wrote it. I knew every episode, I knew who was going to be the date; I had that already lined up. I had all these actors that I trusted, that I’d worked with, that I knew were super-talented. Then I wrote to their voices. I wrote to their strengths. Which, for an actor, to have a script written for you is a very rare occurrence.
“There was something really magical about writing for these actors, knowing what they were good at, knowing how they would shine, and making those moments really present in those scripts for them. “They’re like ‘Wow, this was really written for me,'” she continued. “I think that’s how I made those scenes really memorable…It was about the fact that I knew all of these people. Then I had in-depth conversations with them leading up to their episodes where I was, with permission, taking from their own life and their own personalities of what they were going through during the pandemic.
“During the prep process, we’d have a one-hour, two-hour rehearsal with each actor and we’d workshop the scene. I would also give all the actors the opportunity to improvise. A lot of the improvisation that we did in those workshops, I would revise the scene and put those improvisations in the scene,” she added. “Then on the day of shooting, we would also get a chance to improvise an entire take. I used a ton of that when I was cutting the episode; it felt real and organic and raw, because it was. That’s why the characters really stand out— because I let people really, really shine and really be them.”