I was apprehensive about whether or not to participate in a Zoom cuppers. However, something about the “virtual sub-genre emerging out of pandemic darkness”, as Arifa Akbar (writing for the Guardian) has stated, excited me. This was an entirely new experience, a mode of art barely explored before 2020 and something that I believed would benefit me to be a part of.
Thus, receiving the news that a group from my college were still taking part and that there was room for me amongst their ranks was comforting. The play, named ‘A*’, written by Leah O’Grady, followed the life of Pip, a sixth-former coping with the pressures of applying and being rejected from University in the wake of her friend’s death.
As in any theatre, playing out sensitive themes can be intimidating, especially to young actors. Over Zoom, this anxiety grew ten-fold. Met with scheduling issues, the distractions of home life, interjections from family, and being physically such a distance from one another, I felt the fear of seeming under-prepared and over-acting.
Without the means to use gesture or physicality properly, I was left acting like Emma Watson in the first few Harry Potter films: my eyebrows moving up, down and around with an intensity that was entirely unfounded. Things such as eye-contact (which I had totally under appreciated as a form of communication) became weirdly complicated, every actor being blindly aware that each was in a different formation on the others’ screens, many lines meant to convey intimacy simply having to be projected “out”, wherever that may be.
Having no way of exiting the “stage”, Leah recommended covering our cameras with blue tac every time we left a scene. This initially gave the play a strange atmosphere of being on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel, each character seemingly punching the screen at every transition, until we eventually became slightly more elegant in our practice of “entering the wings”.
Buffering was the enemy. To wait until whoever’s Wi-Fi returned or to continue the script was the question. Many times awkward silences ensued in which nobody quite knew the protocol. However, I occasionally found this to work to my advantage: forgetting a line or a cue is not such a punishable offence if you say your connection was lost.
Despite these issues, problems were eventually ironed out through the true beauty of online performances: multiple chances to record. My eyebrows finally calmed down and the process was in fact incredibly helpful to develop subtleties of expression and tone of voice. The irony of being so intimately placed, face-to-face next to one another on-screen, whilst being miles away in reality made for interesting dynamics of conversation, and my group were proud of our work when we finished our final take. Leah, our director and writer simply stated: “it was really nice having a project that I’d been working on actually read and developed!” So, whilst the exhilaration and the glamour of the stage can wait for next year, I am glad that I was able to involve myself in what we may one day look back on as a lost and fleeting sub-genre of theatre.