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BWW Review: The Orbit Initiative's Hamlet

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BWW Review: The Orbit Initiative's Hamlet

What is the future of live performance in the age of covid-19?

Tulsa Oklahoma's Orbit Initiative is committed to making theatre "by, of and for all people" and social distancing hasn't stopped them from pursuing their goal.

As ambitious and bold as ever, the Orbit Initiative hasn't lamented Tulsa's lockdown as an obstacle to theatremaking but has instead embraced the circumstances as a catalyst for creating new performances. This past month, they presented a virtual production of Hamlet on the videoconference platform Zoom.

Zoom is notable as a source of angst for those who have found themselves making the obligatory shift to remote work during the lockdown. With the advent of covid-19, countless workers have been forced to transition from the warmth and intensity of in-person interaction to the eerie, eye contact-less world of video meetings.

The Orbit Initiative's production of Hamlet was an energetic experiment in the new world of the Zoom stage. Zoom presents audiences with a special kind of paradox that feels particular to the landscape of simultaneous loneliness and forced intimacy in our covid-plagued world. It is sanitized but intimate, ephemeral but potentially permanent, abstract but vivid, detached but oddly visceral.

The performances were thoughtful and animated, but the actors seemed a bit unsteady at times, and who can blame them - Zoom transforms the familiar terrain of Shakespeare into a black mirror of restricted physicality and meticulously timed entrances and exits. It's not quite acting for the stage, and not quite acting for the camera, nor is it something in between.

The Orbit Initiative's cast, led by the spellbinding Bailey Workman, navigated this in-between-space with intensity and stamina. They were able to keep emotions high despite their physical isolation, and only rarely descended into intermittently over-articulated British accents or stilted caricature - an incredible feat, especially considering the inevitable sound blips and perpetual closeups.

New Zoom users can find the platform to be a bit tricky, and in a professional setting, it can be easy to forget to mute your microphone or usher errant pets from the background. Here, the stakes were much higher, and timing and vigilance proved crucial for keeping audiences immersed in the world of the play.

The production incorporated a degree of detailed logistical coordination that was nothing short of miraculous, and director Tabitha Littlefield did a masterful job of reducing the clunkiness of impossible transitions and changes of scene. If any audience members opened their Zoom app with residual feelings of dread from a long day of video meetings, those associations were soon dispelled - and replaced instead with the wonderful existential dread captured by Workman's performance as the Danish prince.

Traditionalists might lament the transition of an ancient art form to the medium of a glowing rectangle. However, we all must come to terms with the fact that this is theatre in the age of covid-19, whether we long for the buzz of packed houses or not.

Once again, The Orbit Initiative has stretched the boundaries of what it means to create truly equitable productions, and in doing so, they have provided a potential solution to the paradox of performing live while socially-distanced.


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From This Author Dara Homer