Five different bodies converge on one screen sharing a head, two separate arms, a torso and a chest to form a digital Zoom beast.
This is all par for the course for the play “Antigonick.” Using ingenious digital techniques from director Vanessa Severo and scenic designer Sarah Reed, the play (based off a loose translation of the ancient Sophocles play “Antigone”) makes use of pandemic technology to give a unique theatrical experience.
“This is a completely new approach to theater and scenic design, so there isn’t a lot that I’m learning in the classroom right now that has prepared me for this production,” said Reed in an interview posted on the theater’s Facebook page.
The actors exercised their talents when dealing with common Zoom glitches seen daily in online classrooms: minor network failures, background image misplacement and voices canceled by the mischievous mute button. The actors did not let any technical errors phase their performance, impressively remaining in character at all times.
“I never realized just how much different computers and internet connections can affect a production,” Reed said.
As future online performances become popular, Reed urges producers to ensure the cast has a trustworthy internet connection, a pair of wireless Bluetooth earbuds and possibly an ethernet cord on hand.
Lighting designer Alice Combs said she had her doubts about the online format at first, but after an entire year of virtual interaction, she felt it made a lot of sense for the audience to experience this performance digitally as well.
“I thought that doing the show virtually would distance the audience from the story, but staging it on Zoom has actually brought it closer for me,” Combs said.
Cast member Jenise Cook said in an interview with the UMKC theater department that the most difficult challenge acting in separate locations was feeling connected to the other performers in a scene when you cannot look them in the eye. With many moving parts on screen and working to create the illusion of making eye contact, actors were generally not looking at each other at all while interacting.
“The only way to be fully connected to them through a screen is to really listen,” Cook said. “I feel that on this platform it is the only way things feel authentic to the outside viewers and the only way I genuinely feel connected to my classmates.”
Bringing the spirit of an epic Greek tragedy to a small square on a laptop screen was a welcome challenge, Cook said. Each cast member has gained skills in theatre that didn’t exist just a year ago.
“You do have to be honest on Zoom. That camera sees everything,” Cook said.
Interested theatergoers can still watch the recorded livestream at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKm2Zk-pKcI&feature=youtu.be