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BWW Blog: Confessions from a Zoom Rehearsal

I have a soft spot for Zoom readings, they have always felt like a great way to replicate the theatrical experience through a digital medium.

BWW Blog: Confessions from a Zoom Rehearsal

When I was in middle school, my friends and I would get on a video chat and read through the scripts of different musicals. It was something we did in our free time, and it was a low stress, incredibly fun way to be with my friends, and have a great time "onstage". Flash forward to 2020, and every piece of theatre is now virtual, and I can't help but think back to my middle school days every time I log onto a Zoom call.

I have a soft spot for Zoom readings, they have always felt like a great way to replicate the theatrical experience through a digital medium. At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought that getting on a video call and reading a script would be the closest thing we could get to live theatre, at least for a while. However, there's been a recent push away from Zoom readings, in an attempt to achieve something more unique. Initially, this movement upset me. As an artist, I'm personally interested in traditional narrative structures, and to me, that seems challenging to present in a digital medium. Any experimental online theatre I had seen or read about seemed far too experimental and abstract for my personal tastes. Furthermore, it felt very reminiscent of film. This is not a bad thing by ANY means, I'm a giant film buff, and I personally know a ton of wonderfully talented filmmakers, and I have tremendous respect for their artform, as it's something I could never see myself doing. But as a theatre artist, it didn't feel the same as live theatre. And I missed that.

This year, my college is hosting a full virtual season, composed of published plays, student written work, and devised theatre. I recently had the privilege to see their first production, and at the same time, I was beginning rehearsals for a show I was cast in. After these two experiences, both as an audience member and a participating theatre artist, I suddenly felt a lot better about zoom theatre.

As of posting this, I am one week into rehearsals for a virtual production of Twelfth Night at my college. And to be honest? I've been having a blast. When I was first cast, I thought back to the swarm of Shakespeare readings from the beginning of quarantine. To me, these were the only things that captured the energy of live theatre. It was a band of actors going through a story. The other virtual performances I saw were stunning, but they didn't feel like the kind of theatre I was used to creating. Thinking back to these opinions, I realized I was a little harsh on a completely new form that was finding its footing.

As I sat through our first read through, I was ecstatic. I was excited to work on a comedic juggernaut, and I finally felt like I could get behind Zoom theatre. And the more I spend time on it, the more I fall in love with it. My director (as well as the theatre program at my school) has been able to distill the culture of our department down to it's building blocks, and digitize everything I've loved about live theatre. Behind the scenes, the community of artists pulling everything together feels exactly as it does in person. And as far as the performance aspect goes, this new stretch of Zoom theatre has brought something to my attention that I had, regretfully, not even considered: utilizing my camera as another tool at my disposal in building my performance, and using it as a conduit to my scene partner.

The camera as a scene partner is a foreign concept to me. I'm primarily a writer, but when I do perform, it's always been on a stage. That stigma about not hiring theatre actors for films because they're too big? I'm the poster child of that. However, as I continue to become more comfortable with my character through the process, I'm slowly but surely becoming more and more comfortable with the camera. I've been able to use the exaggerated nature of my character (the bombastically drunk Sir Toby Belch) to my advantage, through experimenting with different camera angles, and utilizing the space around me in new and different ways. As we continue to block scenes and run through the script, I sometimes truly forget that I'm performing over Zoom.

I wish that theatre artists could live in a bubble like the NBA. I wish that there were more theatre troupes that could quarantine for the purpose of creating work together. I wish that I could have access to a few of my close friends, a camera, and a performance space, and livestream as much theatre work as we could churn out. But mostly, I wish I could be in a theatre again. Whether on the stage or sitting in the audience. However, until the return of live theatre, I've grown to love Zoom theatre. After all, at the end of the day, it's exactly what I loved to do with my friends way back in middle school.

If you're like me, and struggling to adjust to Zoom theatre, my best advice is to try and do some. Get together with some of your closest friends, and just play.That's all theatre is, right?




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From This Author Student Blogger: Michael Scuotto