To Zoom or not to Zoom: creating online theatre

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With theatres closed indefinitely, and multiple shows cancelled, the DST community has found itself at a bit of a loss of what to do. Surely there’s something dramatic they can do to while away the time between the start of lockdown and the moment when the Assembly Rooms doors open again and the Elvet corridors thrum with desperate auditionees?

Enter online productions.

They’re a lot of fun to do, but take time, effort and energy people might not always possess in a time when our mental and physical health is suffering an onslaught by multiple sources

Having participated in three different styles of these — a radio play recorded on Zoom, a radio play recorded individually, and a series of monologues — I am fully aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of the medium. Basically, they’re a lot of fun to do, but take time, effort and energy people might not always possess in a time when our mental and physical health is suffering an onslaught for multiple reasons. A great deal of organisation is required from all sides, requiring rehearsals over Zoom, recordings and particularly a significant amount of time needed for sound editing, required to stitch together large casts (my two shows had casts of over 20) so that it sounds like they’re in the same room and so that the show remains intelligible for the audience. Similarly, with in-vision projects like DST’s ‘Theatre Alive’, actors gain an extra burden of having to learn lines and change their craft from theatre acting to film acting, which takes a lot of time, experience and enthusiasm. The fact that these two options are the main ones open to actors and writers at this time is a shame, as both formats have their own stresses and struggles that take some of the fun out of the theatrical experience and again close doors for creatives. Whilst you may want to participate in shows, and while more shows may be open to you (I worked with the Oxford University Drama Society, for instance) you need quiet space and massive amounts of time to record, which cancels out people with busy home lives and jobs. Theatres as a whole need to come back to allow the proper range of theatrical work to be realised in a way that benefits everyone.

Although it might take a little more effort than you might like during a global pandemic, it recreates the fun and the stresses of live theatre in a way that makes you long to do it in reality.

Nevertheless, simulating the theatrical experience online drama does work. It’s fun and reassuring to know you can still participate in a readthrough with other people, even if you’ll never meet them in real life, or to try out and experiment with different voices and movement in a safe rehearsal space. It’s nostalgic and slightly sad to do socials over Zoom, where the curry night is virtual, but you still play drinking games and compete with quizzes. And it’s a blessing to be able to flex your dramatic muscles across all parts of the theatrical world, from directing to writing to producing to acting to sound editing, meaning that people are able to improve and gain skills and not feel that lockdown has been entirely wasted.

Overall, despite its flaws, online drama provides a simulation of the theatrical experience: the camaraderie, the commitment, and the end product. Although it might take a little more effort than you might like during a global pandemic, it recreates the fun and the stresses of live theatre in a way that makes you long to do it in reality. Bring on October. 

Image: Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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