The dreaded Zoom call.
One of the most notorious zeitgeists in the age of Covid-19, epitomising the absurd reality we have stumbled into. Now commonplace, being able to spend time with family and friends involves enduring Zoom’s imminent frustrations: the delays, the glitching, the dodgy Wi-Fi booting you out of the server. Gawking at colleagues and loved ones on a screen – or, in my case, using my Zoom square as my own personal Narcissus pool – has quickly become claustrophobic and draining. With many of the NSDF shows this year succumbing to the Zoom format, one issue coming to light is how we translate physical theatre and movement direction to the tricky, unpredictable language of a Zoom call. Elin Schofield, NSDF Associate with a range of credits as a movement director, wrestles with this issue in her workshop, ‘Movement on Zoom: Limiting or Limitless?’
Already cramped into my modestly sized bedroom, experiencing the cliché of London living conditions first-hand, I worry how my space will operate with the exercises Elin is about to set us. As I’ve learned the hard way, dance classes and yoga sessions are already out of the question. As we begin, however, Elin is quick to reassure us all that each participant should feel comfortable, diving head on into these exercises, but only insofar as our parameters and restrictions will allow. Split across breakout rooms and tasked to devise a collaborative piece of physical theatre, we discover that our individual limitations can be manipulated to our advantage: play with furniture, play with levels, play with angles, play with depth, play with everything at your disposal. For Elin, our environments should be our inspiration rather than our obstacle.
The end results became a mix of whimsical, yet oddly touching, moments: disembodied arms reaching across screens in the hopes of finding another, hands passing through one screen only to phase through the screen underneath, and – my personal favourite – the “foot ballet” underscored by Vivaldi. The process I was initially cautious to throw myself into, became a child-like joy as we experienced new ways of turning our little Zoom squares into its own stage. Elin’s workshop allowed me to reconsider a lot of shows taking place at NSDF this year. While each show demonstrates well-crafted, promising new writing, I worry about the slog of repeatedly watching eyes staring back at me. I see these actors desperate to connect with each other, but can any script rise to the challenge of the disconnect inherent in every Zoom call? The platform is designed to bring us together, and yet every call seems a relentless reminder that we are more alone than ever. Perhaps we could all benefit from expanding our horizons beyond the confines of our Zoom windows. Perhaps each show taking place during this unconventional year at NSDF deserves to experience the freedom Elin Schofield nurtured today.