To Zoom or not to Zoom
The struggles and joys of virtual Shakespeare
This is the set up that IU set me up with for our production of Twelfth Night. Green screen, softbox light (obsessed), webcam, microphone, ethernet cable, plus a billion adaptors and hubs for my sad little macbook with only two USB-C ports. The goal is to create a uniform look and sound across all 14 actors in our various apartments and dorm rooms. So we can feel connected across the internet through our tiny screens.
On the one hand, WOW! 10 years ago, or even 5, a feat like this would have been impossible. A pandemic would have meant shutting down theatre completely. Instead, we have been able to migrate to the wacky world of Zoom theatre. But on the other hand, it is a world full of pains and challenges. First and foremost, it will always be a flattened facsimile of what live theatre can be. Every time I log on for rehearsal, I long for the energy that comes from connecting in person. So much is lost in translation trying to make eye contact or create physical moments when your scene partner is a tiny green light. We cannot physically fight or embrace or nudge or hold hands or even make a true entrance or exit. I cannot sense my partner's body language and energy, the delightful frisson of real chemistry.
But I try not to think like that. I try to appreciate how, with the words as our only true tool, the language takes the forefront in a brand new way. After all, Shakespeare's plays are the words. Shakespeare is an exercise in listening more than anything. With no flashy scenery or set changes, no extensive blocking, we are left to tell the story by speaking it. As Patsy Rodenburg says, to perform Shakespeare is to speak it. We spend our rehearsals mining every line, every thought, every word, to extract every possible iota of meaning and action. There's nothing to hide behind. And this, I think, is excellent training for the actor.
Will it translate into a compelling performance? If the audience can set aside their expectation of what a play is, and open their ears to the story, hopefully they can come along for the ride with us.