I recently had the unforgettable opportunity of working with Big Telly Theatre Company to bring to life via Zoom the story of The Machine Stops by E.M Forster.
The majority of my friends and family's first response was ‘How does that work then?’… little did they know at the time, I had no clue either!
Creating a play on Zoom is challenging and the first hurdle was definitely the technical side. Most actors will have a few technical skills due to self-tapes and creating their own work. Creating a play on zoom is a whole different beast! There was instantly a sense of trust and patience as each of us worked through our own frustrations due to ‘jerky bandwidth’, power cuts and technical restrictions.
At times a dodgy internet connection mid rehearsal can really ruin a funny quip or sarky remark, however, it does encourage everyone involved to fully focus and have patience.
At the end of the first week of rehearsals, I felt incredibly inspired. A 2-hour rehearsal on zoom feels like a full 8 hour day. The focus and energy everyone offered was contagious!
Our rehearsal room on Zoom each day was a place of ‘Yes! Do it, turn your computer sideways, grab that lamp!’ rather than ‘I’m not sure how that will work?’Washing baskets were turned into hot air balloons and saucepans became medical apparatus!
Luckily our ever supportive director Zoe Seaton and half of our team were familiar with the format, and two ‘Zoom Wizards’ kept us on track. We welcomed some professional advice on how to ensure our sound was optimised or our green screens were evenly lit. It was a process full of learning experiences and little nuggets of knowledge. I never thought I would find myself in the position of delivering a monologue about control whilst operating a spotlight with my big toe! Little wins eh, little wins!
You can't help but question what can go wrong. There are all the perils of live theatre and more. We discussed all the pitfalls but it does not prepare you fully for when it does.
You’ll find yourself feeling fully in the zone, you are in full flow mid-scene, the audience participation is on point but you suddenly hear the faint sound of your green screen slowly tearing from the duck tape behind you… trust me, no one wants to deal with a droopy green screen mid-scene on Zoom!
Once you resolve the issue you have the wonderful possibility to then watch your fellow performers engage with the folks at home! Seeing audiences from the UK, America, New Zealand all slow dance to your cast member singing is simply magical!
What I missed was the spontaneous moments of creativity or the glint of your fellow actor's eye when a joke really lands mid-show. What you really miss is the chance to head for a pint after rehearsals or the show and have a laugh about who fluffed up their line!
It was a challenge that was wonderfully disguised as an invitation to remain connected, to continue creating and sharing stories. I think it's given me an opportunity to re-evaluate what's important as an artist and tap into the reasons why I wanted to perform from the beginning.
Niamh McEnhill is an actor who has worked within theatre, film and voice overs with BBC Radio 4 and Ch.4 Derry Girls. She also has a background in arts management and writing with the aim to create and produce new work next year.