to zoom or not to zoom
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Technology and I are not the best of friends. Whenever I have to figure out how a new piece of technology works, I’m met with so much resistance from my brain. that I refused for a year to replace my phone even though the camera didn’t work, the phone itself wouldn’t update, and it needed charging every hour. It’s a problem. I have now replaced my phone, and – yes – I do regret not changing it sooner. Although that regret can’t have had much of impact, as I am typing this on a laptop that can’t close, as the back is hanging off. Oops.
I give you all this background information on me so that you can more fully understand how I might feel about theatre over Zoom. Over the Internet. Using Technology. Big Yikes. Nightmare visions crept in of me not being able to figure out how to work the video on the night and pressing the wrong buttons, eventually ending up in a synchronised imploding of everyone’s devices. The fear, on a more real level, stemmed from the workshops and zoom meetings I had had previously: they made me feel very lonely. It highlighted to me that everyone was in a separate room, people seemed stuck in their camera... I certainly felt like I couldn’t move. I also struggled, as I think everyone does, with knowing when to speak. For me, one of the most beautiful things about theatre, is the collective experience, this mass sharing of a new story and the conversation it sparks afterwards - I didn’t think Zoom had the ability to create that.
On the other hand, I missed theatre... a lot. A lot, a lot. I missed creating and developing a new world with people. Delving into a script, sharing thoughts and ideas. So when the opportunity came to participate in a Zoom play, I said yes. I had to.
I read the script, I had no idea how on earth a lot of it would be displayed on Zoom, but it was intriguing and sparked my creative side which had been fast asleep for most of lockdown. I had lots of questions and the director, Pedro Santos, had an abundance of energy and creative solutions for them.
At first, my worst fears proved true. I didn’t know when to talk. I was stiff as a board. I lacked creativity. Gradually the director led us through improvisations, games, and discussions – all with the aim of utilising the camera and the ‘advantages’ it gave us. Through these games and improvisations we all started to find the humour and drama that could be had from being your own cameraman! The fits of giggles that erupted from extreme close ups and ducking in and out of the screen freed us all. I started to realise that I was still allowed to go where I wanted in the room. These seem so obvious now, but at the time I was so paralysed by the eye of the camera.
Another thing that started to materialise was the creative camera tricks and work-arounds we had to develop. There were a lot of wonderful ideas that sprang up from things like simply passing a jumper from one screen to the next. It became a playground, just like rehearsals are in person. I realised that I was having fun via a piece of technology and the fear I once had was slipping away.
Now, not everything was miraculously fixed. I was still struggling with reading people and I found it easy to drop energy as I was still aware that I was in a very separate room to everyone else. I felt the need to be in close to the camera so I could react to people which made me feel like I’d aged a few years and needed glasses. On opening night, I was strangely subdued. I would normally spend the whole day swinging between nerves and excitement, but not for Zoom. It didn’t feel real. It felt like I was stepping into the rehearsal room again. In a way it was nicer to feel calm but I missed the butterflies that I normally get, the nervous excitement of finally sharing the work you’ve all done.
For the performance itself, I really missed feeling the audience, feeling collective moods and the power behind everyone sat together sharing an experience. Zoom cannot recreate that but I think the power of theatre is still there. It added to the charm. I am very grateful to The Greenhouse Ensemble for putting on these Zoom shows. They are showcasing different talent every week, giving new platforms to people and inspiring others with the Zoom creativity. I felt connected with new people and had a lot of fun. My fears of Zoom, much like my phone, were for nothing. I felt like I had grown after the experience. I recommend seeing a Zoom show, watching the creativity as people mould things to suit the new platform; be inspired by it and definitely give it a try.