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ZOOM: The Final Fron-Theater By oscar barnes

With ZOOMfest complete, the Upper Campus Performing Arts Department looks ahead to an uncertain future in play production.

On Friday and Saturday of the past two weeks (Nov. 6, Nov. 7, Nov. 13, and Nov. 14), Pinewood’s Upper Campus Performing Arts Department showcased ZOOMfest, a collection of six student-led productions performed live on Zoom with an intermission dividing the show in half.

The first play, “Art Heist,” showcased a paradoxically contemporary yet traditional twist on the common art heist whodunit trope. The second play, “The Breakup Room,” took on relationship dynamics and other antics unique to the Zoom Breakup Room experience. The third play, “Time and Time Again,” explores a father and daughter relationship through time as the daughter, Ayana (played by Ayana Jassal), comes to terms with her father’s ambitions, ultimately choosing the world over him.

IMAGE COURTESY OF PPA

After the intermission, the fourth play, “RemotionZ,” follows the parallel experiences of a teacher and a student as they explore the difficulties of Zoom education and ultimately come to terms with each other’s struggles. The fifth play, “The Proposal,” revamps the hilarious proposal trope as we see Nikhil (played by Sid Samel) try to propose to his girlfriend, Niva (played by Nikhila Nanduri), being interrupted by an assortment of quirky and relevant characters along the way. Finally, based on the 1985 movie “Clue,” the sixth play, “No Clue,” explores the murder of a Hollywood director in a fictionalized 1950s Pinewood, showcasing a unique side-by-side video and live presentation throughout.

A new type of play

“Usually, we do something scripted.…,” said Katie Linza, the Pinewood Performing Arts Chair. “Talking to the department, Mr. Eivers and Ms. McRobbie, we decided that something like this would be a lot more doable, a lot less stress for us and for the students, and it would actually be a really great way to empower the students, to [have them] write their own stuff….”

According to Linza, after students were broken up into six different groups based on age, experience, and who would work well together, students were given control over the entire playmaking process, writing their own plays and designing their own artwork. According to Linza, students also met with Bill Bates, Director of Technology at Pinewood, at the end of the first week of rehearsals in order to receive some guidance on Zoom techniques. Students were also assigned three random objects – two of which they had to incorporate into their piece – in order to spur creativity.

“we decided that something like this would be...a really great way to empower the students”

“I think it’s hard to create or to be creative when you are given no guidance at all,” Linza said. “I think freedom is wonderful, but there is such a thing as too much freedom when it comes to creativity.”

Performers’ responses

At first, many students were uncertain or even doubtful about whether ZOOMfest would even work.

“At first I was kind of terrified. I had never done anything like writing a script before…,” said Sam King, a senior who was the filmer, editor, graphic designer, (experienced) stage manager, and (first-time) playwright for “No Clue.”

“once we really got into it during the last couple weeks...everything started to click and it became a ton of fun”

While the process was slow at first, students soon warmed up to the idea.

“It took me a while to fully warm up to the idea of the ZOOMfest, but once we really got into it during the last couple weeks, when all the groups would rehearse together, everything started to click and it became a ton of fun,” said Sid Samel, a senior who played Nikhil in “The Proposal.”

Successes and failures

According to Linza, the most successful aspect of ZOOMfest was the energy the students brought to the whole experience.

“We were super proud of them… to be able to [bring energy into their pieces]. That’s hard for anybody. Seasoned performers and amateurs are alike.”

“I think they did a really good job of bringing the energy into the pieces,” Linza said. “When you’re at home by yourself…. You have to manufacture that energy for yourself.… We were super proud of them… to be able to do that. That’s hard for anybody. Seasoned performers and amateurs are alike.”

On the flip side, according to Linza, students struggled with pacing.

“Something that we always talk about with the kids in performance, and this is like for regular performances as well, is this, is just pacing…,” Linza said. “On Zoom, it’s kind of strange because you could be getting something later than the audience, you know. Lag time is very strange, you know? And that’s something that has to be more on top of their minds, and [they] have to be more on top of their cues than, perhaps, in live time.”

“On Zoom, it’s kind of strange because you could be getting something later than the audience, you know. Lag time is very strange”

Overall, Linza believed that the students had a really good time and were proud of what they did, enjoying the opportunity to perform something live.

“So much of what we’ve had to do in the performing arts is prerecorded,” Linza said. “…[what we did] was the best substitute that we could’ve thought of for them to perform, so I am so, so pleased. I think it turned out really well for them, and they were proud of what they did.”

Linza also noted that she had received positive feedback after the matter.

“I received numerous messages from Pinewood faculty, families and even some prospective families who said they really enjoyed seeing the students' work,” Linza said.

Plans for the future

Even with a successful performance, Linza expressed that she still wanted to do a more scripted play in the future.

“I want us to do something different for the spring, for sure, and if we do have to do it on Zoom, you know, maybe it is going back to that idea of something more scripted,” Linza said.

“I want us to do something different for the spring...maybe it is going back to that idea of something more scripted”

Linza also discussed the possibility of exploring Zoom even further.

“There’s actually a lot of fun things that I’ve seen can be done,” Linza said. “I’ve watched a lot of Zoom theatre this spring and the summer because so many theatres went on Zoom. There was some really clever and exciting stuff that people were doing with Zoom that I had no idea Zoom was even capable of.”

Even with these ideas in mind, Linza says that the Upper Campus Performing Arts department is still undecided about what the spring play will look like.

“We are not entirely sure yet,” Linza said. “…we’re kind of just waiting to see where we’re at at the end of the school year. Where is our country at? Where is our school at? You know, are we still in hybrid, or have we moved to remote? ….Hopefully, we’ll know a little bit more by the end of the semester. We’ll have to make a choice no matter what based on the knowledge that we have.”

“I am [so] inspired and grateful to all our PPA students for pulling it off with hard work, humor, and grace, which is so characteristic of our PPA kids”

While the future is uncertain, Linza has indicated that the Upper Campus Performing Arts Department will continue to push forward.

“I'm so proud of how our students pulled together and made lemonade out of lemons with this experience,” Linza said. “We were so devastated at the end of last school year knowing we wouldn't be able to have live, in-person performances this school year, but we all took a big chance, never having done anything like this before, and I am [so] inspired and grateful to all our PPA students for pulling it off with hard work, humor, and grace, which is so characteristic of our PPA kids.”