“But we already know how to do this! It’s like starting over.”
Actors, directors, teachers, trainers, salespeople, coaches, ministers, tour guides, team leaders, managers, boards of directors…people in so many industries are having the feeling that just a few months ago they were on top of their game. Now, in order to do the most basic part of their jobs, they (we) have to master some form of technology to connect them to other people.
And it is more work.
There’s the choosing of the new technology, and then you have to learn it, and then you have to make sure all the people you work with can use it…and ugh it is such a hassle.
But doing this work on the front end will pay off.
Confession time: I am not a “let’s think it all through ahead of time” person, but my husband is. Charlie is meticulous, while I’m always looking for the shortcut. I remember one summer before we were married, we were planning to go for a hike. I was impatient to leave, and Charlie was (to my mind) taking FOREVER to get all the stuff together for this little day hike. At one point I said, “What are you doing now?,” and when he answered that he was getting big trash bags to carry with us in case it rained, I scoffed.
Well, you can see where this story is going. The hike was lovely until giant clouds rolled in and started to absolutely dump rain on us. It was a big summer afternoon thunderstorm, and without the trash bags he had brought, we would both have been soaked.
Another, more pertinent Charlie story: the theatre he runs, North Carolina Stage Company, is closed right now, like almost every other theatre in the US. But he was thinking for several months about how he could be in touch with the subscribers and patrons. He could have held a Zoom call from our living room. It would have been easy. He could have recorded a video and sent it in the newsletter. That would have checked the box.
But he wanted to bring the audience into the theatre, and give them a taste of what we have all been missing. The staff sent out invitations to our patrons, and on the designated night, they dialed into the Zoom link. They were welcomed into the “lobby” with a greeting and a notice of when the “doors” would open. At 7:30, the white “lobby” screen vanished, and we could feel the event beginning as the image on the screen changed. There was music playing in the theatre, and we could see the stage, still set with the furniture from the last play, that closed before it ever opened.
Faces of audience members began to pop in, smiling and looking for people they knew. Staff and board members said hello, and patrons unmuted to greet each other. It felt like we were mingling before a play. It was exciting. It didn’t feel like “just another Zoom call,” and here’s why.
Charlie had worked for three days with two designers, masked and socially distanced, to set up lights, sound, two cameras, and an enormous, 17-foot wide screen. He recruited a test audience of family and friends to try out the technology before the event. One staff member served as the stage manager, working behind the scenes to mute mics, monitor the waiting room, and troubleshoot. Another staff member handled questions and tech issues from audience members. The executive director and associate artistic director planned portions of the program.
The program Charlie designed was simple: he wanted to connect with the people who care about NC Stage and tell them how things were going. But he also wanted to remind them of what they love about live theatre—and the only way he could do that was to bring them back into the space, to see the stage. And in order for them to really be reminded, he had to make sure the technology would enhance his message.
The cameras gave the audience different perspectives. The microphone ensured they could hear. The lights were designed for the cameras, not for stage lighting. And the giant screen? That was crucial because this was where the audience showed up. Laptops were connected to two projectors that sent all those smiling faces onto the screen, situated in the front seats of the center section. Charlie could stand on stage, look out, and see those faces, of supporters and donors and subscribers, of people who have sat in those seats season after season. Those faces are the reason for the event, for the work, for the theatre itself.
The point here is this: As you’re pivoting your work to the online world, be like Charlie. Think through what you’re going to need. Test it out ahead of time. Don’t settle for “good enough.” If you discover something isn’t working well, be ready to change it.
We may be doing this for a good long while, and you deserve to show up at your best.