I recommend minimal use of Zoom virtual backgrounds and filters. They are fun to play around with, but they can distract from the performance. For our show, we played with the Snap camera app and used it as inspiration for our props and costumes.
For example, the actors playing fairies liked the Snap Camera confetti filter, so they threw real confetti in the final scene of the play.
Dress Your Character
Encourage actors to put together costumes that fit their characters.
These costumes should distinguish individual characters, but also be similar enough to anchor all characters in the same story world.
For our Midsummer performance, we presented the world of Athenian royalty and fairy magic in modern stylings because that is what we had on hand.
It worked out beautifully. The royals were majestic. The fairies were colorful. And the rude mechanicals were pitiful…as they should have been!
Understand and Use Your Scale
Changes in the number of boxes on-screen have a dramatic effect on Zoom. For example, the visual of 15 participants on-screen is very different from the visual of 2 participants on-screen.
If fewer boxes are displayed on the screen, actors will have increased attention from the viewer, and smaller details of their display will be easier to see. This gives actors freedom to back away from their cameras and show more of their bodies and backdrops.
If several boxes are displayed on the screen, actors should get closer to their cameras and focus more on reacting to others present in the scene.
Once you figure out how to arrange the order of your participant Zoom boxes (this is covered in the section above “Arrange Position of Video Displays”), you can have characters pass objects to each other between boxes.
To prepare for this stunt, tell participating actors where they are relative to each other, and make sure they pass objects that are identical or relatively similar to each other.
To perform this stunt, start by having ‘Actor A’ hold their object within camera view, while ‘Actor B’ keeps their object outside of camera view. ‘Actor A’ should pass the object in the general direction ‘Actor B’. As the object vanishes from the camera view of ‘Actor A,’ ‘Actor B’ should pull their object into camera view from the general direction of ‘Actor A’.
The audience really gets a kick out of this one!
It can be difficult to coordinate collective sounds between individual performers over zoom. Using pre-recorded sound from phones or computers is one way to overcome this obstacle.
The recording can be done by the performers and used to simplify aspects of the performance. For example, before our Midsummer performance, we recorded a guitar strum that was played when characters woke up during a scene (this happens a lot in Midsummer).
You can also use pre-recorded sound to create effects that performers cannot do organically. During our performance, we used cricket sounds that we found online to enhance a character’s bad joke.
The sound quality is best if the recording is played by the last person who spoke on Zoom.
Directors can still take time to meet individually with actors.
To prepare for our performance, directors organized individual Zoom meetings outside of rehearsals to answer questions, discuss language, and help actors define characters.