Kueppers: Lights, Camera, Zoom!

Technology has saved performing arts, but when COVID-19 is old news, I hope digital performing is, too.

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Henry Kueppers

Let me make myself abundantly clear: I appreciate Zoom and its ability to save plays, musicals and stand-up comedy by bringing together an audience of people safely and remotely. And by no means do I think anyone who has used Zoom or other telecommunication tools to broadcast these events is dumb or foolish for doing so. For Pete’s sake, we are not left with many safe options, okay? We clear on that, friend? Great. Now that I’ve said that … I hate Zoom performances and I really hope they become old news once the pandemic is over and done with.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Henry, don’t be your usual annoying, dumb self. Of course, we won’t be using Zoom once people can gather safely in society again.” Yet, I’m not so convinced. Think of it like this: Over the course of this entire pandemic, companies and employees have shifted their mindsets from never working from home to possibly working remotely for the rest of their lives. What’s to say this can’t happen in the arts? All I’m saying is, people have gotten used to being able to call into an otherwise live performance and watch from the comfort of their homes. Who’s to say people won’t want that after this pandemic is over? Not me!

Let’s also discuss the changing landscape of the theater industry as a whole. According to Forbes, Broadway is going to do some major overhaul if they don’t want to end up a thing of the past. For example, New York has always been a cultural hub for all things culture. Yet, in the aftermath of the pandemic, theaters and creatives alike have had to migrate to different cities in order to continue their work. So, even if live performances return, will tickets cost $100 more because of this huge setback? And speaking of accessibility, will Broadway and the in-person entertainment experience become even more exclusive, forcing out a large demographic of folks who can no longer afford to see a show? Will there be a similar effect on local theatres?

Or what about the fact that we’re seeing the emergence of musicals and plays migrating over to streaming platforms? Hamilton took Disney+ by storm over the holidays. Movies that were once blockbuster hits opening weekends are no longer given the chance to debut at the theater. Instead, films like “Wonder Woman 1984” or “Just Mercy” are going straight to streaming platforms and not through their usual studio routes to movie theaters. Will this new phenomenon completely eliminate the movie theater industry and further boost this Zoom era of receiving all our entertainment inside our own homes?

Of course, I assume that people will want to return to live shows. We all miss sitting in plush theater seats, acting like we understand art and culture and fighting for a spot in overcrowded bathrooms during intermission. I assume we all miss this, but you know what they say about assuming. It just makes an ass out of “u” and only you — yeah, that’s right. I’ll never be made to look like an ass, unless of course more people like Zoom entertainment than I thought.

So, do I have a proposal or action plan lined up for you? Absolutely not! I’m a hot-headed, red-blooded American who doesn’t know how to use the word “acquiesce” properly in a sentence. But will that stop me from giving you my opinion? Hell to the acquiesce no. Here is what I believe: For the time being, Zoom has been awesome. It’s probably brought lots of people joy because they’ve been able to either watch or perform meaningful acts that they otherwise thought would be impossible in the world of coronavirus. However, nothing can beat the experience of live theatre and performance. Therefore, I don’t want anyone getting any wise ideas and thinking it’ll be okay to keep Zoom around for these purposes.

Zoom, you’ve been a great substitute for the last year, and honestly, I don’t think the world should just quit Zoom cold turkey. Obviously, it does have a lot of advantages and can maybe be utilized to help shows reach a wider audience in the future and help lessen some accessibility issues facing performers and audiences. That all being said, when the day comes when Zoom is no longer needed, all I can say is I hope the door doesn’t hit its ass on the way out.