By now, we all know what Zoom is. If you don’t, you’ve taken your isolation to a new extreme.
We also know that Zoom has become synonymous with theatre of late. We all know why. For most of us it has been baptism by fire; one day we are going to the theater, the next we are trying to figure out how to open a Zoom, how to host an event on Zoom, what we need to do to record a Zoom, and even how not to use Zoom as we try to figure out what better conferencing apps are out there. Who would have thought this novel way to communicate, that so few of us knew about, would become the standard for all things theatrical in a matter of days? The entire universe shifted overnight.
But let me tell you a truth, one that I strongly believe: Zoom sucks on many levels, and zoom is a great and fortunate thing in other ways. 2020 is the year of Zoom. In a 3 month period, Zoom stock grew by close to 74%.
If you have anything to do with creating theatre, If you are a producer, a playwright, a director, a theatre company, and even an actor, you’ve come to realize by now that Zoom is a Godsend to keeping theatre going. Hear me out because I know many of you are currently cringing.
Yes, Zoom is far from perfect. In fact, to be fair, so may be most video-conferencing services. For me, personally, there is no way I ever can sit through most Zoom meetings. My limit is about 15 minutes. At that point, I just want to get out. No matter how good some Zoom productions can be, I rarely…ok, ever, sit through an entire Zoom theatrical reading or presentation. Given the choice of anything Zoom, I’d rather watch cable or Netflix, or even the Disney-Plus streaming service, but that’s just me. So I started asking around.
I asked 10 random friends (a very unscientific study, and akin to a very poor focus group, if any of them were sitting through an entire Zoom event as either a participant or a viewer (this included any manner of Zoom presentation, whether live or recorded. 1 person said they could, but mostly they all said absolutely not. The most compelling reasons to stick it out, was when forced to do so because of work (I teach on Zoom, so I get what they’re talking about). Only one person I know actually enjoys reading parts on Zoom because they feel it keeps them active. Me? Every time I’ve been asked to read a part on Zoom for no other purpose than entertainment, I’ve said no… without hesitation.
But then I watched an entire song from Company, the Broadway musical, done in a Zoom style (all the actors were remotely located and shot individually), and I had a very strong reversal of opinion. It was the opening number and with all the bells and whistles, clever editing, clean acting, and great lighting, and it was wonderful. At that moment, I realized that like anything else, with a little creativity, a little investment, and training, Zoom, and similar remote conferencing apps, could be a saving grace for theatre producers and creators in any stage of the development process, not to ever be confused with a final production, of course.
What if you approached a Zoom-based presentation the way you would a staged reading, or professional table-read? Sure, this discussion has been floating around the industry at such places like Theatre Resources Unlimited gatherings, and other places, but I am thinking several notches higher in terms of what was being tossed around.
The discussion then took a turn for the better when I (of all things) Zoomed with successful Broadway producers who were working on several Zoom projects that have gained momentum of late. The two producers teamed up with several creative and business types to create a reading of a play called Jenna And The Whale, as part of a benefit. I was Zooming with the two men, along with playwright Joseph Krawczyk, to discuss using a similar approach to create a staged reading of Joe’s Off Broadway bound play, It’s All About Lorrie. We’ve have been developing this play for close to four years and we were about to do a backer’s reading when this Covid nightmare started and we put everything on hold. But talking to our Broadway producer friends, we were wondering, what if we created a Zoom reading instead? What if…
√ We had it professionally directed?
√ Trained the actors on how to shoot with good lighting, wifi, sound?
√ Added some sound effects, and maybe some music.
√ Maybe used some sort of costume changes?
√ Asked the actors to stand and frame the shots in more creative manners?
√ Used titles and backgrounds to make the reading more exciting and engaging?
√ Edited the final outcome (with several takes if necessary) to get the best outcome?
√ Invited backers to an online event to view it?
√ Kept a full version of the video for those missed it, and better yet, a highlights reel of the best moments as a sales piece?
Suddenly, here we were thinking that our postponed reading did not need to wait until 2021 to resume in a more traditional setting such as a studio! What if we could do it to keep the process going?
Zoom is not an answer to replacing live performances, but it does offer some fast solutions if approached correctly. This epiphany was exciting.
At this point, I’ll stress that live theatre will never be replaced fully. We learned a new word, “pivot.” With Zoom, we can pivot until we can resume. We can stay in motion, continue to build a base for the show, and when the time is right, put up a traditional stage production!
We are not done with our conversations about our Zoom project, but we are excited and see a light at the end of the tunnel. The vision, the potential that these producers brought to our attention, was certainly an eye opener. As we continue talking, I am looking and searching for these quality, edited Zoom productions. So if you think you’ve seen any… please send a link. If we find anything better than the typical boring Zoom, I’ll share with you too.
Watch Jenna And The Whale here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRnO6s72mnA&t=368s
Watch Sampat-Dharma with English Sub-titles here: https://youtu.be/lP__hhvubWI
Watch the Company reunion that first gave me faith.