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      MYSTERIOUS SYNCHRONICITY or BLESSINGS FROM ZOOM by Kathryn Sheneman

      b 22 21

      Being new to acting, Zoom is the only performance platform I have known. Still, I readily can appreciate the exasperation of Thomas’ friend insisting that Zoom is “NOT THEATRE!” And I have to admit the weird off kilter eye-contact of Zoom, and the other platforms, Facetime and Skype, is uneasy making when trying to engage in more emotionally intimate conversation. And yet, having Zoom has truly been like a miraculous life raft that appears in the ocean out of nowhere. It may lack comforts but gosh, it has saved our souls and offered other advantages we would not have had. 

      For example, when I moved away from Washington DC, it meant bidding adieu to my book club located there. Now they meet on Zoom, so I am back in, enjoying the company of women I thought I had lost. And consider this example: our local Yoga studio had to shut down of course, and Kath Thompson, in addition to having recorded classes, makes a point of having one live Zoomed class a week, bringing together both local folks and folks who have moved far away or are away on vacation. I took her live class last fall from the coast of Maine. And we often have old friends in class hailing from Florida, Alabama, Wisconsin.

      Typically, this live yoga class includes a period of time before and after the class for us to catch up with one another. But after one particular class, for some reason, Nancy Boston (an MU concert pianist retired to Wisconsin) wanted to play a piece of music she found apropos. This was lovely, but that was not all. For the next live class, to be held the day before Thanksgiving, Kath and Nancy planned a post Yoga class concert. We had our usual class for half an hour and then settled back and listened to Nancy play the classical composers for another half-hour. It was magical and would not have ever happened without the pandemic; without Zoom. 

      As yet another example, when I was feeling particularly troubled, I was thinking of a Philadelphia-based psychotherapist I used to see 20 years ago. I had no idea if he was still practicing or even alive. And I was not about to consider driving down to Philadelphia anyway, a coronavirus hotspot at the time. But sure enough, he is still practicing and doing online sessions. So I was able to enjoy and benefit from a few sessions with my old helper via Skype. What an amazing and effective platform this has proved to be. 

      Missing Broadway shows; yes; especially painful. But even in this situation, at Christmas time, I paid $50 for a ticket to see Jeffrey Mays perform A Christmas Carol on Broadway, via Zoom. I tell you I felt mighty grateful to have the opportunity to see this utterly superb performance. Despite the limitations, I can still feel the intensity of that experience.

      Flashmobs are something I miss greatly. Christmas 2019, in Peggy Dettwiler’s Festival Chorus, we descended upon Walmart and performed Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in the Produce section. Sadly, now it is too threatening to even venture into Walmart at all among the maskless faces. However, look at all the digitally produced choral music available. I have a friend who sings with her church in Annapolis and she was able to simply send me their magnificent digital performance of My Wordless Prayer. 

      And look what transpired this past weekend during our first Zoom Hamilton Gibson production. I so look forward to hearing Thomas’ analysis of how it all went down. But from my novice perspective, the video allowed a truly close-up view of each reader, which added to the substance and depth of the performance. And consider the added sense of connectedness seeing the audience, those who opted to show themselves, so close up and present. And all kinds of friends and family from distant places could come watch when they might not have otherwise ever been able to experience seeing us perform. It was gratifying how Thomas mentioned the names of a number of the attendees. And imagine folks who would not really have wanted to venture out in the cold night, but would tune in. 

      Further, Rich Orloff’s work is now known more fully and widely than ever. And the overlay of music was a nice touch, wasn’t it. Sure; it was not perfect. The performance was interrupted for one attendee to be reminded to mute. And on my iPad at least, audio delay was annoying visually. And possibly folks had technical problems, an inevitable risk with computers. But overall, the Hamilton Gibson production over Zoom of Blessings from the Pandemic seems to have been a pretty solid life raft in the sea of disrupted live theater. In fact, can we ever turn back? When we do begin to gather in-person again, it does seem that there will ever after be a segment of the audience who will need, or want, and perhaps demand an alternative to physical presence.

      In all, I sure feel blessed by having this digital mechanism. If navigating the minefields of the unfamiliar landscape of Zoom et al does not completely exhaust us, we may find we want to give thanks for this awkward digital blessing.

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