To mute or not to mute: “To Gather Apart” perfectly captures the new virtual world
October 27, 2020
Over the weekend, cast members of the Suffolk University Theatre Department came together to produce their first show of the semester, “To Gather Apart,” an online comic drama about creating relationships in a new virtual world, that we are now so accustomed to.
The virtual performance which was held on Oct. 22, 23 and 24 via Vimeo, featured a cast of 25 students and peeked behind the mask of a Zoom theatre support group during quarantine as they shared funny and heartfelt stories of burritos, noisy neighbors and the search for roses when you hit rock bottom.
The performance, directed by 2006 Suffolk University alum Nael Nacer and featuring videographer Kathy Wittman, showed a raw and intimate look into this support group of mismatched and broken people from all over, Boston to Minnesota, and even a confused time traveler from the future as they talked about quarantine hobbies, interests and hardships.
Apart from the plot of the show, cast members were tuning in to perform from as far as Indonesia, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
“The whole genesis was like ok what’s possible here that’s not possible in the theatre,” said Nacer in a post-show talkback about adapting the show virtually.
The two-hour show was broken up into each week of the support group. The first week addressed awkward introductions and technical issues on Zoom as one girl was unable to turn her audio on even after the rest of the group tried to help her. In another week, an attendee was fighting on the phone with her audio still on.
These scenes were some of the funniest parts in the show as all Suffolk students can relate to the confusion and embarrassment of someone forgetting to turn their microphone off or on. Managing Zoom can be difficult and “To Gather Apart” perfectly captured these uncertain feelings.
Other funny scenes included the surprise to learn that there were five girls all named Liz in the support group. In another week a girl proudly proclaimed that she has watched every show and movie on Netflix during quarantine which is so on brand for 2020.
There was also the horror of being in the wrong Zoom call. In this scene, everyone knew each other except for the group leader, Alex, and creepy waves and smiles flashed on screen with a Scientology screen card displayed at the end. This fear of somehow ending up in a cult meeting could signal how powerful cults can be in a time of transition like a pandemic, said cast member Colin Smith.
A few sincere date scenes were also included in the virtual show with two quirky members learning about each other on Zoom while literally a floor apart in their Suffolk hotel rooms. Perhaps, a year ago dating like this would seem odd, but these scenes really defined what dating in 2020 is like.
Interwoven throughout each week of the support group were short clips and interludes such as a piano performance, a Tik Tok of the “Lizzes” dancing to Kate Bush’s mystical song “Wuthering Heights,” a monologue from the play “Our Town” and other heartfelt messages.
Within the humorous show, was a painful conversation between two characters where it was revealed that Alex’s Dad died of COVID-19 and that it was all her fault because she brought the virus home after partying with friends.
Earlier in the show, these two characters were getting frustrated with each other in the support group as the group leader always insisted on check-ins every week whereas the other character thought it was useless.
The show exemplified that even in the worst of times we still persist. Everyone was feeling lonely to some degree and in desperate need of a hug. In some weeks, support group members proclaimed their sad feelings in relation to the weather and in other weeks they all laughed to celebrate a birthday.
It was also an amazing feat for the cast to stay connected despite being physically apart.
“We as a cast still felt very connected to each other even though some of us haven’t even met in person yet. We have a cast group chat that we use so that we stay connected,” said Kieran Khanna who played Rudy the confused time traveler.
Other cast members during the talkback agreed that even with the unique nature of their relationship, everyone was still able to remain virtually connected.
This moving and joyous show ended on a happy note with a cast singalong of Mister Rogers’ “There are Many Ways to Say I Love You” which still holds true in current times.
Watching a theatre production in bed is something previously never thought possible, but “To Gather Apart” flawlessly captured the range of emotions that came with quarantine and virtual classes in a way that made the show hilarious because it’s all so true.
Follow Sarah on Twitter @thesarahdipity.