Explore the Zoom environment as a live online and offline performance space.
This workshop invites personal engagement and group interaction to research ways of using performance in the boundaries between online and offline spaces as a form of experiential learning in the Zoom environment to support professional practice.
My name is Chris Reed. I live in Cumbria in the UK. My introduction to experiential learning was on Live Aid Day 1985 when I started work at Aberdovey Outward Bound. Since then I have worked experientially with the outdoors and the arts, in education, health, care and therapeutic settings in the UK, USA and EU. After a long period in the private and statutory child and adult care sector I have recently returned to working experientially with the arts and the outdoors as a freelancer. But Covid 19 has put some of that on pause. I am sure I am not alone in this.
I have hosted and participated in a number of Zoom meetings for both business and pleasure. For pleasure, I used to attend a monthly ‘Speakeasy’ where a group of us met up in a bar and performed music, poetry and comedy, for our own enjoyment. It was open house and was wonderful. With CV19 we went online with Zoom. It was good to be still doing our thing.
In the zoom meetings, each person would do their thing and the others watched. It was moving, motivating, fun and funny. But often the funniest thing for me was watching everybody watching the one doing the poem or song, and me watching myself watching the others. My mind wandered. All those people in their own homes whilst at the same time sitting next to each other in little boxes. I thought, ‘What if we could play around with doing stuff that connected the people in the boxes.’
Each person would have their space, their box, but could we play around with ways for them to pretend they were actually next to another person. Could we pass an object from box to box? Obviously, we could not do this in our offline worlds, but online we could. I sat there moving my hand to the edge of my box and realised that if the person next to me knew I was doing this, they could high five me online.
From this, I realised there is actually a lot you could do with Zoom as a performance space and as experiential learning. I trained as a drama therapist and can see a lot of connections between performance and experiential learning.
An easy way of doing this is group-based movie making. The movie-making becomes the experiential activity through which people perform, manage a new task, reflect, create and show both what they did and what they learned. It is a very efficient medium.
Using screencasting, where all or part of a screen is recorded as a movie clip in real time we can do group based movie making using Zoom as an experiential learning activity.
Whilst CV19 is around we will be doing more work online. Part of the idea of this workshop is to research, actively, through experiential approaches, ways of making a Zoom meeting an experiential learning activity. We could follow this workshop up through the Linkedin group and continue research after the conference.
Also, I can honestly say that I have not laughed so much as when making movies with people, particularly when a scene is planned and executed and filmed and watched immediately. People witness themselves in action. When done in a playful way, this seeing yourself on film is both funny and affirming. We can do performance live and also make movies through screencasting, which I could show through screen sharing, all through Zoom
With CV19 I think this playful aspect of movie making could be a welcome antidote to the anxiety of our current age. I figured at EEE 2020 we could play with this idea and learn at the same time, which is kind of what experiential learning is really good.
If you are interested in this workshop this document is designed to give some idea about what the workshop content and form will be like. It is also an excuse to share some great movie and TV clips.
The Grand Plan
We meet up on zoom
We introduce ourselves
We explore and experiment with our personal performance space
We explore and experiment with our collective performance space
We use what we found to make some movies
I edit them and do some post-production and share what we made after the conference
If this is useful and interesting we follow it up through the Linkedin Forum
We explore and experiment with our personal performance space. This is my zoom box.
From my research, this is a 4×3 ratio box about 1m by 75cm when seated at a desk. But beyond the desk, this is usually an area comprising part of a room. But, as this is an offline space, it extends into your house, home, office, whatever. This offers many dramatic opportunities. Your individual box is here highlighted in green.
To explore this we can do it by extending our hands to see where they leave the box by looking at ourselves in our box. In true dramatic style, through play we work at getting this in our body awareness, using embodied cognition. But for some of our performance, when we do not face the computer screen, we may not be able to see ourselves for feedback. We could have a mentor and guide help us. We all mute our mic except for one or two people, who could verbally guide the person and direct them. This is funny bacause in doing this we all watch this drama unfold.
Augusto Boal a theatre director and political activist talked about working with the ‘spectactor’ in which a person shifts from actor to spectator and back. We could do this one at a time, with each person as an actor getting guidance one at a time then joining the rest as a spectator to watch the drama. As experiential educators, this is a useful device as we can see how to use it to have the group collectively learn from each individuals emerging actions.
We then extend this to the space in the room beyond the being seated at the desk.
We repeat similar excercises but in the area beyond our desk. We test which bit of the room is in camera. We look at exits and entrances to our room space. We think about how this offline space looks online. Being at a conference and at home at the same time is an interesting place to be. Later I suggest some ways of using this for performance.
We have a quick, initial go at making a movie.
Through discussion, we agree on doing a quick rehearsal, then as performance, meaning it has a beginning and an end. I screencast it and we watch this and enjoy ourselves in performance. This is invariably funny and affirming. To me, this is our first, warm-up round of experiential learning.
We do this for about 20 minutes using collective conversation, or individual sharing using the mute button, or we use the chat facility to take and share notes for later use for our professional practice.
We explore and experiment with our collective performance space. This is our stage.
Having got some sense of our own space we work with the collective space. As we look at the matrix of boxes, in our online world we have a person to our left and right, above and below, at an edge or top or bottom. We could look at our image on the screen and do a round of high fives, or handshakes. We can also turn into our own space and interact with other boxes but lose sight of ourselves. We shift from spectator to actor, performer and audience. We explore this, maybe having half the boxes as spectators watching the other half as actors, or two people interact, or we all watch one person responding to the group all around them.
We do this for about 20 minutes, seeing where it goes and playing with ideas to see what happens. This can set us up to work more directly with performance with a goal of agreeing on something we want to do, rehearsing it, then performing it whilst being recorded through screencasting, then witnessing our creation through the screen share function. I record it and show you all what you made.
Offline, we are all over the europe. Online, we can shake hands with our neighbours.
As I see it the following are available as tools to help us work experientially to explore and work with our personal and collective space to communicate ideas or support rehearsal or performance.
- The mute button to manage individual contributions. We agree for it to be off for some things and use it like hand raising in group work.
- The two views to see everybody at once or one person at a time.
- Use screenshare to show ideas or documents from our own computer.
- The ‘chat’ function to develop script or directions that we agree to and follow or as notes and observations we think are useful for our professional or personal practice.
- We agree visual or verbal cues that punctuate our performance.
- We use screencasting to review our actions or performance.
- Other devices say a phone or tablet, to record a script to be read or as notepad to be shown to the camera.
- Other windows alongside Zoom on our computers.
We develop these for the next stage. This is a second round of experiential learning.
We make some movies
Below are just some suggestions for things we could do. My hope is that after the exploration and research described above, we develop ideas as a group, but these could help give some support to developing ideas.
Regards recording there are, as I see it 3 main forms we could use
- The Meme – A very short film clip of under 3 seconds, or still image often with text attached.
- The Clip – Like ‘You’ve Been Framed’ or whatever it is called where you are, of about 10-15 seconds telling a little story, like it is a candid shot on a phone.
- The Scene – A longer form, like a trailer or an important scene from a movie, with some development of content or ideas. A useful goal for future development but maybe a bit ambitious for a 1-hour workshop.
There are also ideas about form and content worth considering. The form is the thing we make and the content is what it says. The book is form, Russia during the revolution is content, these are brought together as a narrative, the novel is ‘War and Peace’. Form and content overlap and where they work well together is good art.
The movie-making becomes the experiential activity through which people perform, manage a new task, reflect, create and show both what they did and what they learned. It is a very efficient medium.
Form could include working with how the performance or movie works. Ideas about form could include
- Having a music track playing live and people sing or act along, then I dub it over the top post-production to appear like a music video on YouTube. You will be in sync if you sing live on camera, so you will appear to be singing on the finished video clip.
- In the matrix, when a person speaks, you, in your space, look towards where they are in the matrix, so you appear to be looking at them eye to eye.
- Playing with the clip so that, for example we could have everybody move to the left in their frame so that when I do work in post-production to make the clip tilt over it appears you are reacting to the clip listing over like boat. Or have the clip bounce up and down. For performance this just means people act like this is happening, looking alarmed and unsteady, then I make this happen afterwards in editing.
- There are other things to do with the boundary between you being offline in your house at a desk and you being in a grid of frames online in Zoom.
- If we just play and have fun with the form live we will have ideas come to us.
The Fourth Wall
We can also explore the use of what is called ‘the fourth wall’ as a way of linking form and content. This is a very interesting way of using Zoom. The fourth wall is a performance convention in which an invisible, imagined wall separates actors from the audience. While the audience can see through this “wall”, the convention assumes, the actors act as if they cannot. An actor can do an aside, in which they address the audience as if the wall is not there. Our fourth wall is our computer screen and camera. Anyone who saw Fleabag would see the fourth wall used very well.
This could be a very interesting experiential learning device if used sensitively. You could debrief or review, formulate a plan, all on Zoom. Then script and perform a scene on Zoom where the issues are reprised but the group uses asides to the audience to give voice to misgivings individuals may have about the plan or explore and express conflict between group-think and personal agency. If recorded, you can also review the performance and rework it giving voice to solutions not misgivings, or compromises not conflicts.
Albert Camus said ‘To create is to live twice’. To me this describes the performative aspect of the arts and performance in which we rework experience through a creative medium. With a painting, we literally re-view a scene or phenomena. To work with the same experience with different media invites different frames or filters for the re-viewing.
I have an arts manifesto which says – ‘Rule # 9 – Every different kind of material you use to make your art will tell you some different thing. Use lots of different materials to research the same thing. Or use the same material to research different things.’ Zoom can be understood as a performance material or medium. Using it in different ways for the same experience may evoke different outcomes and grant a broader perspective on the experience. Also, using different modes of review can do the same thing. This is an important aspect of using art as research. By changing form, you rework content.
Here are some ideas about how we can we fill our frame with something that tells a story.
Very simple. We choose a choon we all want to dance to. We choreograph and rehearse a dance or we just do it without too much thinking. (Sometimes you need to just stop making sense.)
We start with silent empty Zoom frames. The music starts. One by one the flashmob appears and the dance develops. Eventually, all the boxes are filled with dancers. Looking up, down and all around, dancers start to interact and dance together, mirroring moves, passing moves on from box to box. We dance…
The Moving Hand
We each go to our wardrobe at home and find a glove. Each person wears their glove on one hand. We start with the glove bottom right on the Zoom window. The person in that frame moves it along the bottom of their frame left to right. Eventually, it arrives in the corner next to the next frame. The next person starts outside their bottom left corner and moves their gloved hand like it passed from one box to another. We make the glove go box to box, person to person, left to right in each individual frame. It could go to the end of a row and disappear. The person on the row end could use their gestures to look like they are following it outside the frame up to the next row. We make it go through all the boxes. It will change every time it passes box to box. We have a narrator commentate on this with humorous explanations about why this happens. We could work with it going the wrong way, or jumping, but just script it or time is to appear like we are all following it with our eyes. This would to me seem like a classic experiential education problem-solving task.
This is what is known as a ‘Sight Gag’ and there are loads of things like this we could do and record. Good proponents of the sight gag are Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton. Below are some good examples for inspiration.
What sight gags can you think of that would use the Zoom format?
Work with the idea of telling a story with handmade words. We perform but speak Pingu to emphasize the transnational nature of EEE. (ie we don’t revert to English).
Exploring being at home offline and in a meeting in cyberspace online
There are lots of clips of people being interrupted by children on Zoom. Stuff like this…
See if you can think of ways of involving your home confinement as a story about being online and offline at the same time.
The Sub Meeting.
We all pretend we are important people in an important meeting online on Zoom. (No acting there then!) But because we are also offline at home and not at work, to doorbell goes in all of our homes at the same time (Imagine that) So we all rush off out of the room. When we leave we all get dressed up ‘offstage’ and come back as another person like they just wandered into the empty room. We all do this at the same time. We each come back as a different person and notice the Zoom meeting and sit down and all chat to these new people they just happened to find online. You could come back as a robber (mask and stripy top) or a cleaner (a stick as a broom) or an older or intoxicated or highly glamorous relative. Then the alter ego hears you (in your first identity) returning and they rush out the room leaving something behind. You get back in in your original identity and resume the meeting. There is something left behind though in all the rooms and you all find it and wonder what has gone on.
Every different kind of material you use to make your art will tell you some different thing. Use lots of different materials to research the same thing. Or use the same material to research different things.
And as Finale…
Bohemian Rhapsody In One Take
I happened to see a remastered version of Queen Bohemian Rhapsody and the best bit before it goes from choral music to rock music looked like a Zoom meeting with lots of faces. Then I remembered Wayne’s World rendition of the same bit and it had lots of faces too. I did mash-up below and we could do this as a finale. I play the song live, you do the acting, we are in sync, I add the soundtrack post-production.
We could go into our home environment to find a wig or mop to have in our laps and on the transition to rocking out, put our heads down and come up with full-blown freak flags for the headbanging bit from Wayne’s World.
But we do it in real-time like movie makers of old like Tarkovsky and Kurosawa. where nothing was done with CGI or effects or through weeks in post-production it was all live action. I think this idea suits experiential learning where we deal with what we have in front of us.
Andrei Tarkovsky the Russian film director built a barn, waited for the rain, set up the shot and did all but the first 30s of this in a single take. (Due to copyright, on some platforms follow the link to YouTube)
Arika Kurosawa also did all his shots in real-time. He used just the composition and movement in the frame to make his movies so watchable.
I think there is fun to be had and scope for the use of Zoom for performance and movie-making as experiential learning. This outline for the Zoom Flashmob workshop gives some idea about what to expect. The goal is to work with performance as a journey of adventure and discovery and though the outcomes will emerge from the process this page will hopefully frontload some ideas to help the workshop get on the road to adventure more quickly.
If you have any suggestions or questions use the contact form above. See you soon.
Update – It’s been done
Midsummer Night Stream – The Stay Inn
An online Zoom performance of Shalespeare