I am sick of Zoom performances. There, I’ve said it. No-one was ever pretending that they were as good as the real deal, no-one was even suggesting that they came in at a noble second place. But I have watched dozens of self-taped monologues. Scores of backing track musical numbers. Hundreds of facetime comedy sketches. And I have praised them until my fingers are mere nubs.
In challenging times, we must rise to the challenge. Theatre has certainly tried. I have written numerous articles hailing the innovative ways that drama groups have adapted to the pandemic, exalting the bravery and unity that is exhibited by online performances. But after months, upon months, upon cooped-up months of watching productions online, I have just about had my fill.
Don’t get me wrong, online performances are certainly better than nothing. But they always leave me feeling as if I’ve snuck into a dress rehearsal performance, as if I remain eagerly awaiting the grand opening night. And there is one fatal flaw with the medium. It’s far too self-indulgent.
I am a voracious believer in theatre as a two-fold social force. It acts as a cathartic expression or experience for the performers, and as a didactic, entertaining, or escapist enterprise for the audience. There’s just one minor pandemic problem. Over Zoom, the latter half has been thrown out the window. Online productions are wonderful for the actors. After all, it’s their only platform at the moment. But for an audience, there’s only so much entertainment that you can squeeze out of a screen, especially when it’s the same screen you’ve been writing essays on all day.
Without set, without props, without interactions between actors, theatre is simply a little bit bland. It’s natural of course - or why else would we bother with all those things back in the olden, golden days of packed auditoriums and ensemble-filled stages.
And so, there’s only one conclusion to draw. Theatre has become more focussed on its actors than its audience. Its purpose has changed because of lockdown.
It’s fair enough, I suppose. Theatre needed to adapt to survive. More importantly, actors need theatre to survive too, and it’s still providing that service as best it can at the moment. But theatre is simply failing to provide as successful a service to its audience.
So yes - I’m bored of Zoom performances. In fairness, I’m bored of Zoom everything. Theatre just isn’t as entertaining online. But if it bides its time, if it tides actors over, then it can emerge at the other end ready to delight. And believe me, I’ll be 50% of its total ticket sales when it does.