Embracing Zoom, Virtual Theatre Practice, and New Opportunities

Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble Artistic Director Helen Dixon shares her thoughts on being open and intentional with incorporating Zoom into the 'new normal' of theatre.

Helen: Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble has canceled our production of Big, the Musical set for the first two weekends of August and replaced it with a Zoom production of Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play. (I hosted) a Virtual Audition Workshop to help people through the process of learning how to do a self-taped audition. (It was largely based) on a webinar that I took from Theaterish. The webinar is no longer available unless people purchase the templates but there is a free handbook here that is very helpful. https://www.theaterish.com/virtual-audition-webinar. (The) Virtual Audition Workshop (had) 45 people attend. In the Q&A portion, one man asked if people from other states were allowed to audition. I said that would be fine and asked where he is from. Iowa! I have no idea how he heard about it but if he is willing to handle the late nights it will mean for him if he gets cast, he's more than welcome to audition. I think that's an indication of how desperate (right word?) people in the theatre community are to get back to something they love.

I've watched a lot of Zoom "readings" and "productions" recently and have written pages of notes on what I plan to do (and NOT do) to improve them but I think the most important thing I would say is ... rehearse. I intend to rehearse the show (which is actually three shows within a show) for six weeks before we perform, giving it the same credence as I would a conventional play. I think a lot of companies are saying, "It's not going to be the same so it doesn't really matter if we do the best job possible."

"We know we can't give our audiences that great feel of being in a theatre with other audience members but we can give them great performances and the best production quality that is available within the format."

I want our audience to see clear characters and relationships. I want time to experiment with focus, facial expressions, gestures, appropriate backgrounds, suggestions of costumes and props, etc. I also want to take time to see what is and isn't working on Zoom so we have time to learn to troubleshoot, so, if there is a problem, we can try to fix it or have a Plan B for most eventualities. We know we can't give our audiences that great feel of being in a theatre with other audience members but we can give them great performances and the best production quality that is available within the format.

I chose to do live performances on Zoom rather than live stream a performance with the actors together for a couple of reasons.

· Even if we can get out and about more in CA in time to add blocking to the mix, I think that masks and social distancing will be in effect. It's easy enough for us to be sure the audience is socially distant but I would rather learn to use the all close-up Zoom format than try to learn to block a show keeping people 6 feet apart and wearing masks.

· If our plan were to do most of the rehearsing online and then bring them together in July, I would have many actors who would not be able to audition at all. For various reasons, they are simply not going to be willing to leave their homes until this virus has worked itself out or a vaccine is available. The beauty is that now I have some people who are considering auditioning from as far as Siskiyou (CA), Arizona, and the midwest.

A Final Thought on 'These Times'

I created a poll that we sent out to audience members and people actively involved with the theatre company and got a fairly good response indicating that people were appreciative that we cared how they felt, that they wanted to see something from their local community theatre and that they would be willing to make donations to support such a production.

A special thanks to Helen Dixon and Jennifer Finetti of Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble

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