So you’re going to write an original zoomscial? Congratulations, the future has scheduled a meeting and you’ve clicked the invite link. What happens next? Let’s find out together…
It is the end of March 2020 and Ariel Fristoe, Artistic Director of Atlanta’s Out of Hand Theater Company commissions me, the composer-in-residence, to create a new 10-minute-musical comedy that can speak (and sing) to the “new normal” that is being created by the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, the word “zoomscial” hadn’t yet crossed our minds. More on this later…
Just like so many other theatre artists and organizations, because of the skyrocketing rate of COVID-19 infections, Out of Hand reluctantly pivots away from the rest of their planned season on stage to explore innovative new ways of expression. The challenge arises; how can we, as theater artists (currently without our beloved live audience), create new and relevant content, while concurrently adhering to social distancing guidelines?
(Enter Zoom, stage right.)
Based on Ariel’s “new normal” direction, I decide to create an original musical comedy that is entirely conceived and produced utilizing Zoom video conferencing software intentionally as its own dramatic setting.
Musical + Zoom = “zoomsical”!
This new addition to my lexicon comes to me that evening on a walk with my dog. I immediately run home and google it, convinced that surely others are having the same epiphany. Maybe they are, but the domains are still available, so I register them.
To me, the “classical” definition of a zoomsical, broadly speaking, is a comedy or drama in which singing plays an essential part that is filmed and presented utilizing video conferencing software. There are more and more zoomsicals appearing as we artists of the theatre just can’t stop utilizing the tools we have to write and tell stories that connect, even in a time of social distancing.
…the definition of a zoomsical is a comedy or drama in which singing plays an essential part that is filmed and presented utilizing video conferencing software.
So, in case anyone who is reading this is considering creating an original zoomsical of your own, I’d like to share a few things that you might like to consider, and that I hope might help you in your endeavor.
Zoom (or other video conferencing software) becomes much more effective as a storytelling tool when you approach it within its own context.
There is great opportunity for your audience to suspend their disbelief as long as a central conceit of your zoomsical is that all of the characters they’re watching are aware (and frustrated) that they’re stuck using video conferencing software when they’d rather be meeting in person. What’s that old saying about art imitating spotty internet connections? Do that.
Use the quirks of Zoom, in your zoomsical, as features instead of bugs.
The latencies, the vast quality difference and quality of microphones, and unreliable internet connections all can be features of your story instead of mere annoyances. Minka’s freezes in our show are at first unintentional, but don’t stay that way.
Once we filmed our cast over Zoom, we chose to add very little post processing to either the audio or video. This tells a better story by reflecting the unstable environment our characters, who are yearning for some stability, are trapped in.
This morning I watched a zoomsical that, though very well written, has studio quality audio to go along with the video conference quality visuals. To me, the creators of this zoomsical missed a big opportunity to reflect the weakening environment that their strong characters find themselves in. The visuals do this, why not the audio as well? It’s a good show though, and worth the watch. Check it out:
If someone could please invent a way to sing in sync live over Zoom, that would be great! It’s not here yet.
As of this writing, it’s impossible to do a musical live over Zoom. You’ll need to record it so the audio can be synced offline. I discuss the journey trying to find a solution to this issue here (UPDATE: in addition to these software solutions, also take a look at Upbeat, PayPlay, and Cleanfeed). If anyone out there reading this knows of someone or some way to solve the problem of keeping a musical company in sync over Zoom please let us know (contact form at bottom of page, or Facebook, or Twitter or murder hornet… actually, you can keep your stinking murder hornets.)
(Exit Zoom, pursued by a bear.)
It’s my great hope that someday I’ll experience our zoomsical performed live onstage. That will be a beautiful day, because it will mean that we, as theatre artists, will have our audience back! It’ll happen. Someday.
Until then, wear a mask, grow your capacity for empathy, and write more zoomsicals. Let me know if you do.