Coming Soon: “‘The Dining Room’ – on ZOOM!'” by Mark Seliber

       The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney | HubPages                

This story begins way back, in pre-Pandemic times – March 6, 2020 to be exact. That was the day the BOLLI theatrical group –CAST (Creative Acting, Storytelling and Theater)– held its first meeting of the spring semester, preparing to put on a production of A.R. Gurney’s play, “The Cocktail Hour,” to be performed during the last lunch hour of the term. Just three days later, Avi sent a note to all BOLLI members, announcing that, because of something known as “COVID-19,” all in-person gatherings were paused and BOLLI would resume online in two weeks, on Zoom, which was unknown to most of us.

But we all still really wanted to put on a show, as professionally as we could do it online. Our director, Richard Averbuch, proposed tackling another, more virtual-friendly, A.R. Gurney play, “The Dining Room,” which had appeared on Broadway in 1982.The play consists of 18 scenes, each with different characters. The common thread is that each scene takes place over time in the same dining room and all the characters are from upper-middle-class families. Richard selected 10 of the scenes, and Becky Meyers, past leader of the BOLLI acting group Scene-iors, cast the 11 actors, with each actor performing in two to four scenes.

Every Friday morning from September through mid-December and then again in the New Year, we clicked on to Zoom and spent two hours rehearsing. The approach was that the actors ran through each selected scene, with the non-participants watching with their cameras turned off.  Richard made notes and gave us constructive comments after each scene. In the early weeks, we covered five scenes at each rehearsal and reviewed them in some detail. Then we started performing all 10 scenes, with fewer comments from Richard needed as we grew more familiar with the material.  Most weeks, the actors in each scene also scheduled time to rehearse on their own.

So, what did we learn about the most effective ways to perform on Zoom?  We came up with appropriate costumes for each of our characters, since we now just had to worry about heads and upper bodies. Regarding props, we quickly learned that less was more – showing something once was enough to get the idea across. Video screens need to be tilted when alternating between standing and sitting, so in almost all cases we decided either to sit (mostly) or to stand throughout the whole scene. Entrances and exits were kept to a minimum.

Next, we had to become creative Zoom cinematographers. After rejecting the idea of setting ourselves up in our own dining rooms, we decided that each of us would have a plain all-white background behind us, which led to sheets being placed over partitions and pictures and clocks coming off walls. We used lamps and windows to set up perfect lighting. And then there are the various ways we came up with to locate our scripts so that we’d be looking into the camera and not down or sideways at prompts.

When speaking, our initial instinct was to look left, right, up or down to where the other actor was visible on our Zoom screen, but we soon learned that it can’t be guaranteed which box people will end up in. Richard convinced us that if we look straight ahead into our camera, the audience will accept that we are looking right at the person with whom we are conversing. Finally, since relationships are the very essence of acting, Richard urged us to establish strong ones among our characters through active listening and mutual support.

We’ve been diligently working together with our producer, BOLLI Senior Program Coordinator Carolyn Cross, to gear up for a “live” Zoom performance on Tuesday, February 23 at 1:00 PM*, when instead of performing in the limited confines of 60 Turner Street, we can enable all our relatives and friends plus the whole BOLLI community to watch the performance. We promise to take the blame for any acting flubs, but since we’ll be at the mercy of technology, we hope you’ll forgive any problems caused by poor internet connections or stray noises. Should things go awry, please keep in mind what Richard told us the other day, “That’s live theatre!” And be sure to stay tuned until the very end to see the unique way we take our final bows!

CAST members and Richard agree that it’s been a richly rewarding experience to figure out how to build “The Dining Room” together – and in the process, to get to know each other so well.  We can’t wait to have our cast party – in person!

*(CLICK HERE to register)

(NOTE: If no photo appears below, CLICK HERE)







Top Row – left to right
Mark Seliber – (also Stage Manager)
Richard Averbuch – Director
Becky Meyers – (also Casting Director)
Tanya Zelchenko

Middle Row – left to right
Rachel Seliber
Sharon Brecher
Bonnie Alpert
Mary McCartney

Bottom Row – left to right
Joyce Friedman
Becki Norman
Bobbe Vernon
Sandy Clifford

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)