Zoom Is in the House — Live Theatre Online

My husband Greg and I are fortunate enough to not be overly affected by Covid-19 and the associated lockdown. The one major change the shutdown has caused for us is the cancellation of all live performances. Our day planners are sad patchworks of crossed out and canceled concerts and theatre events.

So when Factory Theatre announced a live, online, one-night-only performance of a show we had tickets for, we figured sure, why not.

Actor Kevin Hanchard takes on the role of Victor in this one-man show originally written and performed by renowned actor Daniel McIvor. A rework of the script by Hanchard, McIvor and director Nina Lee Aquino mostly brings the story up to date from its late-20th century setting.

Broadcast via Zoom, from somewhere in Hanchard’s house, with a set created by Hanchard and his family and lighting and tech performed by his teenage son Quincy, the staging was bare-bones but effective. Rehearsals and staging were done via video conferencing and while Zoom is often grainy and choppy, the whole piece came through effectively and was an enjoyable and moving show. It was a different experience than we would have had if we had been in the theatre to see it in-person, and certainly it worked in part because it was a one-man show; multiple characters interacting via that medium would have felt stilted and clunky.

But it worked, and it was great, and it certainly was a unique and memorable way to watch a performance and for Factory to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

Now, while I wouldn’t want to watch every live show via Zoom, I feel the need to mention how really kind of delightful it is to watch live theatre from my own sofa. There is definitely an energy and excitement to being in a space watching live performances unfold, but my own snacks, my own bathroom, and nobody around me doused in perfume is also pretty brilliant.

For years, we’ve been fans of National Theatre Live, where performances from Britain’s National Theatre are broadcast to movie cinemas around the world. Since lockdown National Theatre At Home has been posting past performances to YouTube, a new one each week, and we’ve been devouring these. So I’ve been thinking that it would be a pretty awesome idea for local theatres to do the same thing. Given the financial situation that many theatre companies are likely to be in once they can finally re-open (which will still be months or even years away) offering a pay-per-view format for a recorded version of recent (or past) shows, once the live run is over, would be an additional source of income for the theatre and an opportunity for anyone unable to attend a live show to still see it.

NTL’s April 23rd screening of Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig had more than half a million hits only a day after it was posted. These air for free with requests for viewers in the UK to text donations to NHS-related charities. Obviously, local theatre would have a smaller draw, but this format could still be a viable source of income for a small company if the show was set up with a pay-per-view format.

I know there are some administrative issues with this idea, but as someone who digs live theatre but can’t always find space in my budget or schedule for as much as I’d like, this is something I would pay for.

Certainly, unless theatres keep recorded versions of performances for posterity, this is a suggestion that can’t really be implemented until After Times. But money is going to be tight all around, both for theatre companies and many theatre-goers. So any way to make live, local theatre more accessible to everyone seems like a great idea to me.

Nothing will ever compare to the energy and excitement of a live performance, but I think enough people (including people who wouldn’t normally spend money on live theatre) are probably willing to give online screenings a chance. And even if those people don’t become converts to in-person performances (although I bet some will), screened recordings of theatrical showings could be a great way for small theatres to widen their scope and keep their companies alive, both during lockdown and afterwards.