If you’re a fan of real life things, working in a two dimensional box might feel like it’s limiting your world. This is hard to explain to fans of virtual life who can see the box on their desk open up into a whole universe. There are new possibilities in virtual spaces, things you couldn’t or wouldn’t do IRL. There are ways to feel closer together when working remotely, some with a certain specialness you couldn’t find in person. And there are opportunities to perform different parts of yourself.
Meeting online has helped practically with the body I am in, which is a big (cis) brown (hetero) dude… let’s just say I’m a large person. And it’s been helpful in navigating the intimidation factor, because certainly in some rooms people are more afraid of me than I would like. Sometimes with justified cause based on – say – straight dudes often sucking, and sometimes with unjustified racism – say – ‘fear the brown man’s anger.’ So I’m generally de-escalating as a day to day task when I’m “in person”. In this way it’s kind of great because everybody’s in their own box – I suppose I’m less threatening off the top.
— Jivesh Parasram
This Zoom frame around each of us is a frame of examination. There is both a loss of intimacy, and a kind of amplification of it. It’s more of a presentational format. The camera is powerful in that it gives the viewer a chance to look in a different way. It also has a democratizing effect: if everybody has that same little box, then we’re all sort of equal in some presentational way.
— Moe Angelos
I feel like a lot of people right now are mourning the loss of intimacy, and I feel like online intimacy is very real. It’s just pretty different. The question is not, can we achieve intimacy. Not, how can we get the second best thing because we can’t be in person, but rather how do we artistically and ethically make use of the very special kinds of intimacy that can actually maybe only be felt here.
— We Quit Theatre
First off, focus. Turn off your notifications (it’s hard enough with your dog, your roommates, or your kids…). Embrace new ways of being together.
Things to try on: tools, activities and resources
- Make remote experiments: Go for a walk all together: After doing a phone conversation in pairs (where each person took a turn walking and leading someone at home on a narrated audio walk of their neighborhood) we designated one collaborator who was to go for a walk the following session, while we all listened together. Before that next session, everyone else in the group imagined one thing that might happen on the walker’s walk and emailed it to them. When we next met up, the designated walker set out, described what they saw, and seamlessly integrated all of the imaginary things we had emailed them into their very real walk. Some of the things were completely plausible, some verged on the outlandish. It was really fun, not always easy to guess what was real and what wasn’t, and it was interesting to hear the way they weaved my own emailed offering into their walk. — Sherri Hay
- Try new mediums: Even though I normally work mostly with the body, online I try to use mediums that are just as pertinent and more accessible. I don’t try to do the body on the screen. In a remote context, someone writing something or someone sending me a photograph had the exact same value as someone saying that they put the material through their body. — Claudel Doucet
- Gamers know things: Explore contemporary online games. Your team can meet in a gamespace and find a new way of interacting, or you can visit somewhere on your own and see how someone else has built a creative environment.
Point and clicks are a genre of video game, similar to a “choose your own adventure” book. For me, point and clicks are tapping into something that is replacing theatre in a way. There’s an agenda, but it’s very soft, so mostly it’s narratively driven. You go into the game and you have your mouse and your keys. You are meant to see the world through the eyes of this character that you’re looking at. You walk forward by pressing your keys, you will feel like you’re embodying the person, and you just go up to things and you click them. They will give you a piece of the narrative, and sometimes there’s a choice. Sometimes they’ll say things…they’re called barks. The text barks are little pieces of texts that come at you. They can be really beautiful and poetic. They’re a little bit mysterious. And yeah, there’s something about them that is so narratively satisfying because you’re making decisions. But it’s also really full and rich and you’re filling in blanks. Like you would when you go see a performance and you’re watching dialogue, where you’re watching something unfold. Movement and text… and you’re blending it together so that same kind of thinking process happens between them.
— Maiko Yamamoto
- Investigate using virtual reality headsets with your team: It was very embodied. The visual experience made me feel seasick… bizarrely, unequivocally in the body. That’s fascinating to me as a designer, how immersive, how much one sense (visuality) can change everything else. — Helen Yung
- Try on other forms of expression: We used our time online to work on different things than what we usually do in person. Because circus people are so physical, the challenge is much more in getting them to write or talk or verbalize things. So I had the group do a non-stop talking thing — like everybody had to just talk and not leave silences at all. We were looking at documentation of a past performance and so for like 10 minutes after watching it, they just had to keep talking about it. And so it felt live and was playful, because we couldn’t leave a silence. — Claudel Doucet
- Write together apart
- Write together, together: I led a workshop in a Google Doc, and in the comments I would give little prompts of things to write about. And people were there anonymously, so there was an anonymous platypus and an anonymous blackberry and an anonymous guinea pig or whatever. And basically I gave a series of prompts: what’s your favorite color and why, or write on a theme like justice. We generated quite a bit of text and then over the course of very, very short rounds, about 10 minutes, we would edit it down to a set length, but anyone could edit anything. it was a really interesting way to write and people really liked it, and it was just such a beautiful way of letting go of control. — We Quit Theatre
- Write alone, together: Work silently on your own thing while you sit together. Break the talking head expectation and have a video meeting with someone else who needs to do some writing. Be visible on screen to each other while concentrating on generating words. Think of it like being at a library, or at desks in the same room; looking up and seeing someone else at work is a reassurance and a motivator. You can agree to take breaks and check in, or experiment with uninterrupted silence. Being quiet together on the internet can be very comfortable.
- Reflect alone, together: Consider a meditative writing process. Have one facilitator lead, while everyone else takes time to write. This writing is best done on a physical piece of paper rather than on a screen. Make sure everyone is in a comfortable space. Then, begin to ask questions one by one, with plenty of space in between for people to write. These questions are about cultivating mindfulness. Have the freedom to decide what the questions can look like. Some examples can be self-guided prompts such as: How is your emotional wellbeing? What emotions do you experience the most often? To what extent do you feel you have enough time and space for reflection? How is the quantity and quality of your sleep these days? It’s okay if they don’t finish or write everything. The point is to just get them to feel grounded and provide the opportunity for self-reflection. It is important that participants know they will not be compelled to share any of this personal writing if they don’t volunteer to do so.
One thing I’ve been really inspired by is the people who can just be themselves as much as they are online, on a screen like this, and show us how they are in their real lives.
— Bilal Baig
It’s interesting to think about new ways of collaborating internationally. There’s a project across the ocean that I am directing, but now travel seems less possible. So we’ve been thinking about what it might look like to have a collaborating director over there. Someone who both respects and values what I’ve imagined and charted, but who will also have agency to bring their own artistry to the work. It’s a lot less control, but there are beautiful possibilities. I wonder if in the future — after the pandemic has forced us to try on these new practices — I wonder if we might choose to work in these ways, in order to cultivate international creative relationships, without so much travel. It would also be a way of international artists informing local ecologies in a less “parachute in and out” sort of way.
— Erin Brubacher
I’ve been thinking about all the types of online performance that have been developed by people hanging out on the internet, like video game live streamers — this really intimate monologue performance that they do every day. I find those sorts of spaces so amazing and I feel like theatre artists have barely even started to think about what spectatorship and an audience means because the idea of an audience is so unstable. There’s no unity of time or space. For example, there’s a convention where people come together to play through games as fast as possible. It’s quite technically difficult and requires a great deal of concentration. I watched a video of a player who was really good at this. There was the screen that the game was on, and a webcam showing the player, and behind him in the physical room was a couch full of commentators. Behind that there was a live audience. And then people watching at home sent in short messages, and the player’s friends sent in really adorable inside jokes, and the whole audience laughed. So all of that happened live, and then a year later I watched it on YouTube. After the game the player read a poem. He had this notebook beside him for the whole stream which you didn’t really notice, but at the end when he was thanking people, he opened up this notebook and said “I want to share this poem that my mom shared with me recently, and it meant a lot to me”. And he broke down as he read this incredibly simple prosaic motivational poem. Just this person reading a poem after this incredibly technical showcase, reading it and breaking down and then all of his friends from the couch coming up and giving him a hug. It was so tender. It was so beautiful. It was so surreal. It’s like so many genres at once. It’s reality TV, it’s storytelling. It’s a sport, it’s also like hacking. It’s like collage, it’s like cut ups, it’s like everything packed together all at once.
— We Quit Theatre