“Fefu and Her Friends”: a story filled with such emotion, it seeped through the computer screen. Behind Zoom screens, actors recited lines not from a stage, but from the comfort of their own spaces.
Performing arts events may take on a different form amid the pandemic, but that didn’t stop actors from putting on an elaborate show.
As a result, Westminster College Theatre Arts presented a digital staged reading of the play “Fefu and Her Friends” by María Irene Fornés. During the Thursday performance, members of the theatre program performed in their respective Zoom rectangles while viewers muted their own screens.
As the play moved into its second act, viewers transitioned into rotating breakout rooms to view actors perform different scenes.
It’s an unconventional approach, but the method was taken to adapt to the unusual time. Using Zoom as a means to deliver the performance was a challenge, according to those involved with the play.
“It has been a challenge mostly because we are having to use previously existing applications which aren’t necessarily constructed for this sort of event,” said Evan Leeds, stage director. “I think we’ve been able to find a way to make the show work — even the more unconventional aspects — but it definitely took some mental gymnastics to figure out a solution.”
In preparation for the debut of the virtual performance, the cast members rehearsed via Zoom rather than in person. Due to social distancing guidelines, Leeds decided all rehearsals would be online to mitigate risk.
“It is really difficult to replicate the almost palpable intimacy of live theatre over Zoom that makes it so special,” Leeds said. “We’ve tried our best and I am super pleased with our production but it certainly hasn’t been easy.”
Other actors said they felt challenged by the difficult circumstances that were presented by the virtual performance.
Hannah Orr, a Westminster senior playing the role of Emma, said the technology for a virtual performance limited the cast and crew in several technical aspects.
“For the most part, the virtual format has been the biggest restriction,” Orr said. “It prevents us from incorporating major blocking and can be limited by our lack of knowledge with the ins and outs of the platform.”
Those difficulties did not present themselves in the show, though, as the performance moved gracefully between the actors’ individual Zoom squares.
Izzy Neves, who took on the role of Sue, said although virtual performances are new to her, she still enjoyed the process of preparing for a performance.
“This play is very similar to my prior experiences in the sense that the cast is so loving and incredible and I’m still having so much fun,” Neves said.
Kaitie Smith, who portrayed the role of Julia, echoed that sentiment.
“Since we had to cancel our performances in the spring, I wasn’t able to do what I love,” Smith said. “I’m still sad we couldn’t do what we wanted to originally, but I’m glad we haven’t had to stop completely.”
As for the future of Zoom performances, some say they foresee the possibility of more virtual shows.
Orr said that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, she can see virtual events sticking around.
“I think we’ll keep expanding and exploring new ways to make theatre safely until we can all be in the same room again,” she said.
Although the future remains uncertain for in-person shows, virtual performances have relieved the stress associated with the cancellation of large events.
“It has felt extraordinary to lean into creative expression again as an outlet for the anxiousness and loneliness of these times,” said Leeds, director. “I’ve loved every rehearsal mostly because I get to interact with each of these amazing cast members and share in something we’re passionate about again.”