Production set to begin on Zen Room this spring

(l-r: Cheri Oteri, Ashley Joyce and Layne Marie Williams)

Production of new single-cam, mockumentary style comedy series Zen Room is set to commence early March after news of Cheri Oteri (former SNL cast member, Grown Ups 2) joining the cast as lead, executive producer, and writer.

While plenty of film production has been shuttered due to Covid-19, actress and writer Ashley Joyce (Gilmore Girls, Everyone is Doing Great) forges boldly ahead with a strong female crew. Tapped to direct is Chicago, and now LA-based, up-and-coming director Layne Marie Williams (Scutly, Blanche).

Apart from Joyce and Oteri, the cast is made up of a diverse group of Chicago actors, including Lisa Beasley (South Side, Chicago Med), Aaron Latterell (The Girlfriend Experience, Chicago PD), Jennifer Jelsema (Chicago Fire, Empire), John Mossman (Thicker Than Water), and Joslyn Jones (The Chi, South Side).

With every safety protocol in place, Joyce is excited for her homecoming to begin work on the 10-episode, short form first season focusing on the ins and outs of a small town yoga studio.

And tapping her hometown as ground central from writing to shooting was a clear choice: “The Chicago film and theater community is the perfect place to create something that is desperately needed these days due to lack-of productions as a result of the pandemic. One thing Covid has shown the film industry is that there are places outside of LA that are creating content. Writers’ rooms can be anywhere. We would love to create that in Chicago, where productions not only just come to shoot but they begin and end with Chicago talent from writing to editing,” notes Joyce.

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She adds, “We have received overwhelming response at the prospect of producing a grass roots series like Zen Room.”

Zen Room resonated with Oteri as well: “I love when the setting is a character within itself and a yoga studio is a wellspring for comedy,” says Oteri, “When the Pandemic hit it gave me more time to think about this project and ultimately want to join these two strong, creative, and awesome women in making this amazing idea a reality.”

When asked about her own personal yoga journey, Oteri quips: “I remember getting into yoga thinking I’d like to clear my mind and stretch myself into the long, lithe body of a ballerina. I never turned into a ballerina but I did notice that the fat on my short stature was very firm.”

In the face of a challenging year, Joyce, Oteri, and an all-star production team are excited to start shooting. “We’ve got our Covid protocols in place, as well as a star-studded cast and crew,” says Joyce, “It’s time to start creating again.”

Zen Room is set in a small town yoga studio full of spirituality—as well as a hilarious dose of hypocrisy. The series follows Lauren (Joyce), a genuine idealist, as she passionately introduces yoga to her small, eclectic suburban town with the help of her business savvy colleague (Oteri), who is currently on house arrest for tax evasion.

The odd match-up unintentionally creates a loving—if not slightly dysfunctional—family of mismatched goofballs at Zen Room.

“We really have some of Chicago’s finest on the team of Zen Room. I’m a big believer in magick and I am looking so forward to directing in Chicago again,” Williams told Reel Chicago.

Filming begins March 1 to produce 10 short-form episodes and a spec for a longer episodic series.

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Zen Room is produced by Two in the Bush productions in partnership with local film heavy hitters Chicago Media Angels and Alex Pissios of Cinespace Chicago. Ashton Swinford, Aimy Tien and Grace Hahn are attached as producers.

Joyce is represented by Chrome Artist Management, Roger Paul Inc and Shirley Hamilton Talent. Oteri is represented by Authentic Talent Management and Artists & Representatives.