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  • cogswellmatt77

Revive Zoom Theater

I miss Zoom Theater. There, I said it. If you don't like that brazen thought, go watch some talentless hack on TikTok or YouTube Shorts gyrate their way through a ten-second clip of some random suggestive lyric.

Zoom Theater was a short-lived phenomenon that I would love to see revived. We know the reasons for its necessity, but since theaters have opened up again, this is all but a lost art. I personally don't know any companies still offering digital performance, and this makes me sad. (To be honest, I do know of at least one writer-performer still taking advantage of this.) We had a good run.

I connected with people I may have never met otherwise. Sure, I did a lot of community theater and some film work before the virus made this art form an emotional necessity. I met a lot of people through those efforts, but they were all "local" or reasonably accessible. Through Zoom Theater, I worked with people from New Hampshire to Florida to New Mexico and beyond. I was introduced to new playwrights and actors and still keep up to date with their adventures.

The Zoom Theater experience, even with all of us in separate boxes, sometimes felt more intimate than much of the other work I did on stage. None of us, actors and directors alike (or invited playwrights), could hide in the wings when we weren't on. We were constantly on, and it made us better. Okay, it at least made me better. Instead of worrying about cheating out and ensuring sight lines to our inorganic staging, we were intimate with a camera and with a scene partner a considerable distance away. The material felt rich and exciting, especially because much of it was "new." Yes, there were groups staging known plays. I saw some. I wasn't too impressed. But, I was fascinated with the content from playwrights who finally had an audience. Writers were allowed to workshop pieces without going through the typical process of needing to see a show already in production mode. Actors were allowed to speak with the playwright; what a concept!

I was fortunate to get experience as an actor, playwright, and director during Zoom Theater. I'm not sure exactly when it began to fizzle out, but I do know I had more work through Zoom Theater in those months, two years (?) than I have since. I miss it. It was exciting to work on a piece of "digital" theater. The small audiences were appreciative. They saw the benefit of watching this kind of unique work. Sure, there were drawbacks. I should have written plays about the Zoom audience members who make live productions unbearable to watch. But, in general, most people figured out the protocol after a few tries, and it was fascinating. How often in live theater do we pay attention to the audience as they creep in? It was exciting to see someone log in when you know they would not have seen you in person. There was also the benefit of recordings being uploaded to engage additional audience members after the fact.

It was a moment in time that I miss. I know it will never return in popularity unless another pandemic hits us. Let's hope that doesn't happen. I do think it's worth revisiting. I miss collaborating in an environment where I don't have to worry about travel and production fees. I miss knowing that when "half hour" is called, all I have to do is shut down and go into my office. Was it perfect? No, far from it. It was experimental, for all of us, and I beg more people to experiment with it again.

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