Friday, May 22, 2020

Last night a production of Dear John, by Marcia Cebulska, went up on Zoom, directed by sis Martha. She’d assigned scenes from this play to two actors in a class she was teaching at IU; and they wanted to put on the full show. And, of course, Zoom was the medium of performance.

The show was very good, indeed, and i look forward to chatting more with Martha about her approach to this particular challenge (Zoom). It’s odd, for sure to engage a show while focusing on two squares on one’s computer screen. The technical matter of only presenting two squares side-by-side while the audience’s squares are hidden is surely solvable (though I certainly don’t know how), but is it better to know there’s an audience, to hear their unmuted (if they choose; we remained muted) responses to lines, etc.?

The actors’ movements are limited, of course to the webcams on their monitors; and if they’d found another way (cameras mounted on halos, e.g.) that would likely have been nauseating for the audience. So many challenges to consider, and I’m both proud of the actors and Martha for taking on this project, and glad to have this catalyst for thinking about such things. This particular epistolary play seemed the perfect vehicle for such a medium, really, and i think all involved (the weak link being Zoom, unsurprisingly) really did a great job.

I will ashamedly admit, though, that through most of this production I was either distracted (video call from NY, never turn down a chance to see Jackson!!), or thinking more about how this presentation might relate to musical ‘performances’ than I was attending to the letters being exchanged as these two characters traversed their decades-long relationship.

Answers are unclear to me. Technical latency issues in our ‘net systems are still such that live musical communication (i.e., “in real time”) isn’t feasible. Players can’t actually ‘play together’ in any texture beyond long, slow, sustained ones; fine for a minute or two, or if the listener simply wants to close their eyes and trip for a bit. But if music is to engage in a broader expanse of gestural and temporal imagination–like “Dear John” does–then players must be able to respond without millisecond delays. I’m told by Jason, who travels to Estonia each summer with his wife and kids to enjoy his in-laws home, that the ‘net backbone there is much faster and responsive, and doesn’t suffer the latency constraints of our system. Perhaps we’ll get there at some point soon.

The current technical drawbacks will mean only writing for very small (solo; duos if in the same home) ensembles. And anything more than a solo will require consideration of spacial distancing. This can be an interesting problem to solve, and I think that the physical arrangement of musicians is always a crucial element of performance. This will likely also be a time of lots and lots of new pieces including solo & electronics of one sort (fixed media) or another (interactive, etc.)

Another smile-inducing video is released by Cristin via Facebook…