I did something bad this week, Constant Reader. Nothing major in the grand scheme of things; barely something that would even register given the scale of contemporary villainy. (Deliberately letting people die because they live in “blue” states? Seriously?!) But I feel bad about it nonetheless, and to the extent that there’s anybody to whom I need to apologize, I feel that I should come clean here and now.
This weekend, I failed to attend a reading for which I’d RSVP’d on Facebook.
Now, we are still in the Quarantimes, so this was a virtual reading I’d promised to attend. And by “promise,” I mean that I’d clicked a button on my laptop screen when the invitation came over social media. Many of us do this several times each week – several times a day, for the popular and profligate among us – and promptly move on without a second thought, forgetting what we’ve promised to attend as soon as the screen refreshes.
Only I hadn’t forgotten about the reading. I had it marked on my calendar, I was looking forward to it. And as 8pm on Saturday drew near, I sat down with my laptop ready to watch – only to discover that I couldn’t.
You see, with some things I’m used to, like my Sunday afternoon reading series, we send out the Zoom link as part of the original invitation. That wasn’t the case here. As it turns out, on a part of the original invite which I hadn’t read – you had to navigate to the comments to find it – there was an email address to which we were supposed to RSVP in order to get the necessary link. By the time I realized that this was the procedure, it was already too late.
I only mention all of this because, in the few months in which we’ve moved to virtual readings for the bulk of our theatrical life, there’s been an abundance of different procedures that have evolved. There’s direct links, and private groups, and secure YouTube channels, each with their own peculiarities. Once you’ve accessed the stream, by whatever platform the reading is using, you then have a whole host of options in terms of how to view. Are you watching in speaker view? Gallery view? Are you already muted, or do you need to mute yourself? Do you already know how to do any of that, or do theater companies now need to give these instructions as part of their opening remarks, the way that ushers used to point out the theater’s fire exits in the Before Times?
Will there ever be a standard format for these virtual readings?
On the one hand, it would be nice if we had a treatment for COVID-19 sometime soon and didn’t have to worry about any of this anymore. (Preferably a treatment that didn’t involve the injection of bleach – see that scale of villainy I mentioned above.) On the other hand, making theater accessible to people who couldn’t physically come to see it – because of where they live, disability, expense, or a host of other reasons – has been a problem that theaters have studiously avoided grappling with for years now. The COVID-19 crisis has forced everybody’s hand in this regard, and it would be nice if we looked at the various emerging options for live streaming and remote viewing, and figured out a workable standard for all of us to use going forward.
Because it’s no fun finding yourself with nothing to do on a Saturday night.