I love the theatre. I love everything about it: the rehearsal room, the dressing room, the backstage camaraderie, the after-show pint and the incredible connection you get with an audience when a moment is “just right”. In a Zoom performance almost all of that is gone, which begs the question: why bother?
The answer, of course, is: what choice is there? The world has changed. It seems to me that we have two options: do nothing or find a way - any way - to do something. I found the second option much more appealing.
Presenting live theatre over Zoom is a bizarre experience. During the first run of Horatio! And hamlet or Zoom Delights Not Me, I performed the play from my lounge in Buckinghamshire, opposite an actor in Edinburgh, in a show that was being controlled by a stage manager in London. It’s a brave new technical world, but it didn’t take away from the fact that I was performing in an empty room in front of a laptop that was balanced precariously on top of an ironing board.
Oddly, there is still a connection with the audience. It isn’t the same, obviously. You can’t see them (unless you switch to gallery view) and you can’t hear them. Not hearing the audience is the biggest challenge. How do you time a joke? How do you know if they are even laughing? It takes the concept of trusting the work to a whole new level. Still, you are aware that they are watching, and you are doing it for them. The nerves are still there and so is the thrill of performance. If anything, after such a long period of inactivity, those two emotions are probably heightened.
There are some significant advantages to performing a Zoom play. For one thing, the commute is amazing! There are no overheads, almost unlimited capacity, and no geographical constraints to anyone attending. We have had audience members watching from as far afield as America, and Australia.
I decided early on that the show had to be Zoom specific. I didn’t want to stage a play that would work better in a theatre. I wanted to embrace the opportunities that this new form offered, rather than making excuses for what we couldn’t achieve. Sadly, Zoom plays don’t exist, which meant I had to write one.
We were extremely lucky that Creation Theatre Company generously agreed to host us. Not only are their audiences fiercely loyal, but they are also used to following Creation on their wild and wacky site-specific adventures. I don’t think that taking a punt on internet theatre was a very big leap for them.
One day soon, theatres will reopen their doors and Zoom performances will probably become a distant quirk of history. In the meantime, hopefully a few more people will see our show and think, “That was great, and it wouldn’t have worked anywhere else”.
More details from https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/hamlet/