Monday, September 28, 2020

Playwriting for Zoom

Opinions ahoy!

I have been thinking about the next few years and live theatre.  We will see an increased use of Zoom and/or other such software platforms to create our art while social distancing.  Along the way plenty of producers are going to realize something important--a professional Zoom account costs (as of this writing) fifteen dollars a month.  Compare that number to renting just one performance space for a single night.  I don't think these kinds of performances are going away, even after Covid 19 fades away.  If in fact it ever does.

So--how to tailor plays and performances for this new medium?  Here I offer some suggestions, some for theatre productions in general, but those in bold are aimed at playwrights specifically.  But methinks all can prove useful to writers.

  • I do think productions need to mutually decide where things "are" in terms of the actors on screen. So, if they are all indicating or looking to where a house is, every one of them looks at the equivalent of down stage left.
  • Passing small props from one screen to the other can work very well, providing identical props can be provided.
  • Best if everyone can set up something akin to a green screen and coordinate so everyone is in the same background at the same time!
  • Alternatively, one might find it easier to have a dark background, with light primarily on the character (although this mandates a certain atmosphere).
  • Borrowing a bit from silent cinema, somehow arranging an intro card to show a change of location coupled with some kind of music or sound effects seems good--but I gather this is much easier to do in post production rather than live.
  • Costumes. Given we're probably only talking about something for the upper torso (generally) it seems to me this isn't too much to ask, and deserves a lot of attention. Some kind of color design should go into this.
  • One can change the angle of the "shot." Not with the same degree of options as a film, true, but closeups and angles are very possible. Often, depending on your camera, you can alter the focus and with a little bit of ingenuity even put a transparent material in front of the camera!
  • As writers, look back to Shakespeare and how he had the characters refer to the location--how it looked, how it felt, the hour, their own reactions to the place.
  • Actors should also feel encouraged to use their hands, to gesture with their faces as well as express with them (tilting the head for example) and bring their hands into the picture when it feels right.
  • Opening credits. If all else fails you can find some lovely piece of free stock footage to play in a loop along with some free music and then scroll the cast list as well as other credits. Do it right and you "prime" the audience the show itself.
  • Any scene that includes physical contact probably needs to focus more on building up that contact rather than having it simply happen. Foreplay, in other words. Lead up to the violence without showing it. Ditto the kiss.
  • Likewise, something simple like a stabbing, being shot, or maybe a slap across the face can be "shown" by a bit of creative staging within the screen.
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