Zoom Theatre's second show explored a different way to present "live over the web" theatre. Two actors, in a box with eight cameras. Audiences were moved to tears (in a good way).
With LUNGS, I was very fortunate to get Amber Collins Crane and Gregory Crane, two amazing actors that also happen to be married (and sheltering in place together), to play the roles of W and M. This meant that while I was again directing remotely, they could rehearse together in the same space in the real world.
LUNGS is a beautiful and challanging play written in 2011 by Duncan Macmillan. It was written to be performed on a bare stage with no scenery, no furniture, no props and costume changes. But for Zoom Theatre, all of those challanges become advantages.
To me, this very funny, tender and prescient play feels truer today that it did when it was first written. And having a husband and wife playing the parts of the couple that moves so slowly into a conversation about having a child in "today's world" and the unexpected twists and turns that life brings was a godsend. I knew I wanted a black-box, theater in the round production design. Based on the field of vision of our web cameras, I decided on a 12'x12' playing space with two cameras in each corner (one for standing shots and one for floor shots). In order to be able to have a camera from any of two corners on at the same time, we needed four computers and remote control software so our two person crew could each control two of them. We went with two microphones, one at each end of the room, but found we had to connect the mics and an external speaker to the same computer to avoid echo and feedback issues. Luckily, one of our computers had the four needed usb ports to handle the configuration.
Procuring all of those web cameras, computers, mics, green screens, lighting rings, tripods and such was a story in itself, all items being in very high demand in April 2020. Very luckily for us, Kate Kenyon offered us the use of one of her then-empty dance studios and everything was shipped to Greg, who assembled the entire set and connected all of the gear. At least Greg and Amber would not have to live with a mini-sound stage in their living room during tech and performance weeks.
One moment of crisis came when we first tried out the green screens, which had worked so successfully in our first show. Here they failed completely. With two moving actors in the same shot, the software could not keep up with the background replacement and all depth of field was lost. There was also too much light coming in through the studio windows. So after giving up on that, I went back to Amazon for a rush delivery of 80' of blackout curtains.
A second crisis appeared when everything was up and running and we found that the studio's internet connection was only 5mbs upload speed, which was not fast enought to handle the 2+ high def camera feeds to Zoom and the remote control software the crew needed. Terrible image quality, poor focus, and laggy computer control resulted. Luckily, dropping the camera resolution to 720p from 1080p was enough to stabilize the connections and the feed without giving up too much in image quality.
Ultimately though, it was Amber and Greg and Duncan Macmillan's beautiful script that made everything work. Once the tech got out of the way and they could tell the story, the audience was captivated. Audience comments included "so much chemistry", "blown away", "moved to tears", "a beautiful gift", "a tour de force", "groundbreaking", "cutting edge", "the energy and intensity were fantastic". Three of four performances were at capacity, and donations set a new Zoom Theatre record.