Inventing a New Art Form: The Zoom Play Festival at Imagination Stage
Written by Nikki Kaplan
Associate Director of Education
In mid-December, our first (and probably only) IStage Zoom Play Festival will have its world premiere! Twenty-seven actors, divided among three plays, will perform live via Zoom and streamed over YouTube over the course of three days this December.
Imagination Stage has a rich yearly line up of student work that I have the pleasure of producing. Each season holds a new set of performances in plays, musical theatre, and dance. I walk (often run!) on an ever-moving treadmill to the next audition process, the next production meeting, the next hectic tech week until each show is finally before an audience and all involved get to breathe that wonderful sigh of relief, knowing that that show that came down to wire actually made it successfully to happy audiences! And then, it starts all over again. New challenges, new artistic problems to solve, but the process is always the same.
What I have never done before, is invent an entirely new art form.
At this point, we are all tired of hearing about these “unprecedented times” and those of us in theatre feel a particular pain at our industry coming to a grinding halt, somewhat under the radar of most Americans. Thousands of jobs have been lost as theatres all over the world go dark and will likely be among the last industries to make their return to a non-Covid world. But in the midst of this, online performances, play readings, and edited musical performances have been made and shared online in droves since this started in March. Because artists must make art. It’s what we do.
If you had asked me last spring, I would have told you (probably through tears) that performing over Zoom was catastrophic and couldn’t be done. Now…is it weird that I really like it?! I remember so clearly during the first Staged Reading camp I directed over the summer where I thought to myself, “oh wow – I just made an artistic choice!” Working in a completely new medium, not through choice but because of necessity, illuminates just how much imagination and ingenuity is part of an artist’s daily work. You would think the limitations of zoom would be deal breaking, but in fact, my students and I break through barriers on a daily basis. We need the audience to know we’re in a hospital? No problem – let’s find a sound effect. The stage directions indicate a car driving up in the dark? We got this – we’ll use the flashlight feature of our phones from behind our laptop screens to create the illusion of headlights. A fight breaks out? Well… you’re going to have to watch our show to see how that’s done.
At the end of the day, my lasting memory of being a part of the Zoom Play Festival (specifically in my role as director of The Outsiders) will be having had the opportunity to bear witness of my cast of nine girls becoming great friends despite being isolated from one another. Countless schools and classes are all taking place via video conference every day, but our time together doesn’t consist of staring blankly at a screen; we are building an ensemble. We connect with each other while brainstorming ideas, while taking risks, while sharing experiences, while supporting each other through hard moments of our challenging play.
And now, we can’t wait to connect with you. I hope you will join us and see all three plays over the course of our exciting weekend in December. Each play is set in a different time period traveling from the 60’s (The Outsiders) to the 90’s (She Kills Monsters), and finally to the non-Covid present (The Wolves). Each play centers on the experience of the teenager and their fight to claim identity and independence and to make their voice heard.