We seem to have sentenced all the remote plays written over the past three years to oblivion, that we may never again be reminded of the pandemic which is obviously over. (Please note the heavy sarcasm; also, pour one out for Ascension Monday and Trivial, my two entries into this late and unlamented genre, which you can still find on NPX if you’re curious.) Even so, zoom theatre isn’t going anywhere. As I mentioned earlier, the opening table read for my new short play will take place over zoom just as soon as our last actor is finalized (come on and confirm, guys). My informal classics series, like reading series all across the land, continues to alternate virtual and in-person sessions. And the zoom reading has become a critical part of the development process, as we all arrange for our scripts to be heard by small groups of our colleagues before the resources of full productions, or even staged readings, need to be secured. Last night, my other playwriting series held their first in a planned monthly series of such readings, as we prepare our various scripts for future productions.
A confession I must make; I’m writing this blog post as I watch.
After all, the general etiquette that’s evolved over the past few years holds that we in the audience turns off our cameras and mics while the actors are performing, to then turn them back on at the end to applaud the actors for their work. So there’s no way that anybody can see us, as long as those cameras are off. Which is a good thing; it’s distracting, after all, to watch us all shoo our dogs off the sofa and pick up after errant toddlers in the back ground. And when I’m performing on zoom myself, I’m far too focused on what I’m doing to pay any mind to the number and status of those extra boxes appearing on the sidebar.
But as an audience member? What an incredibly strange feeling.
It’s certainly not impossible. I’ve got a split screen going on, with my word doc on one side and the zoom screen with the actors on the other. It’s not remotely difficult to split my focus. When the piece ends, I’ll be able to discuss it intelligently with everyone. (In fact I’m doing that now.)
So it’s possible. But is it right?
The theatrical convention, of course, is that we pay the actors our undivided attention for their efforts. It hasn’t always been the convention – Richard Burbage had to declaim the words of Shakespeare over the raucous activities of prostitutes and drunken apprentices. But we are accustomed to the silence of the darkened theatre, and masses of quietly sitting spectators observing the play before them.
But as the detractors keep telling us, zoom theatre isn’t theater. It’s not quite television, not quite a podcast, we’re still not exactly sure what it is. But whatever it is, it’s a live event that’s coming directly into our home. Coming directly into our lives. And our lives are messy, and full of distractions and deadlines, and we’re spending time with these artists despite it all. So doesn’t the occasional multitasking, the quick checking of emails and darting off camera to deal with some pressing matter or other, come with the territory? Isn’t it an inherent part of the whole weird experience?
Okay, perhaps I’m just trying to rationalize away bad manners on my part. But if I didn’t, this blog post wouldn’t have gotten written, so there you go.