In some alternate timeline where history was less interesting, where basic science was widely believed by the population and pandemic response was handled competently, this past Tuesday would have been Naked Angels’ season-ending gala for the Tuesdays at Nine reading series. I would have gone from work to our usual home at Theater 80, worn something nice, performed my usual co-hosting duties one more time before the summer hiatus, had some drinks with my friends at the bar, and then headed home, ready to begin a warm few carefree months of rest.
This is not that timeline.
The misfortunes of our current timeline did not, however, prevent Tuesdays at Nine from continuing to serve as a workshop space for writers and actors. For the past two months, we’ve been conducting the weekly readings over the zoom platform. In point of fact, we’ve been conducting four sets of weekly readings over zoom, as the Naked Angels theater company has chapters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. And given that time and space no longer have much meaning in this zooming world of ours, members of the various chapters have been visiting each other’s meetings, finally getting to meet our fellow members in the sister cities.
And so it was decided that in lieu of what would have been our normal season-ending gala, the four cities would come together into one combined evening of virtual theater, all hosted via the same zoom meeting. With hosts, actors, writers, musicians, and audience members combined, we wound up having a grand total of 340 participants.
Now, if by some chance you’ve been spending any time on zoom during this pandemic (remote odds, I know), you know that any conversation of more than three people seems to cause difficulty. People mute themselves without realizing it. When their volume is on, they talk over each other. Internet connectivity cuts out mid conversation. Conversations are delayed minutes at a time as participants try and figure out the program’s various features. And we were planning on a four-city, two hour event with four short plays, four musicians, and over three hundred people in attendance.
How did we do such a thing?
The Saturday before the big event, the artistic leadership of the theater company and the creative directors for the four cities held our own zoom meeting. By and large the pieces had been chosen and the casting decisions made, so not much time was spent discussing these things. Instead, the meeting was spent confirming not only the order of the pieces, but the precise order by which each participant would be introduced – the timing by which one city’s host would hand off to another, the order of announcements, the sequencing of musical interludes. We ran through a mock-up of the event ourselves, so that our managing director, who was handling the technical aspects of zoom, knew exactly who to mute and unmute, and when, so the evening wouldn’t devolve into cacophony.
In other words, we teched the show.
That’s right, True Believers. For all the closing of theaters, for all the economic downturns and social calamities, for all the uncertainty and fear around us, the human urge to create remains intact. There is still theater. But the corollary to this is that, even in the midst of the apocalypse, there are still technical rehearsals. Hell, I had to postpone another event I had scheduled that Saturday, using that proverbial phrase, “but I’m in tech!”
Some things are inevitable, it seems, regardless of the timeline you’re in.