Amidst COVID-19, Drama Tech takes ‘boom’ to Zoom

Austin Hughes (middle) and Autumn Siebold (right) star in DramaTech’s latest Zoom production, “boom,” aside Abigail Russ (left). // Photo courtesy of DramaTech

Over the past three months, the public has been quarantining, hiding indoors as the world outside seemingly crumbles to bits. Meanwhile, in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dystopian play “boom,” two characters huddle in a dark lab unable to leave while the world slowly comes to an end. 

The parallels are coincidence; Nachtrieb published the play 11 years before COVID-19 first arose, and Georgia Tech’s DramaTech theatre company chose this play for this past school year long ahead of the world shutting down. 

“We chose it almost a year and a half ago before we had any idea about anything that was going to happen, so it’s pretty funny that we ended up with a show that’s about life-altering events that change the world forever,” said Melissa Foulger, the director of this show and the artistic director of DramaTech. “We decided to go forward with it because of present circumstances and thought it would be interesting to take some of those themes and bring them forward and be able to share them with an audience and find some humor and some levity in a time that isn’t very humorous.”

The play features two college students, Jo (Autumn Siebold, fourth-year LMC) and Jules (Austin Hughes, fourth-year ENVE), stuck in Jules’s lab after he puts out an ad to go on a date with Jo. Jules had promised her sex that would “stop the end of the world,” but what Jo did not know was that he had meant that statement quite literally.

“I think anyone can probably relate to Jo and Jules, who are the main characters of the show, probably a bit more than people would generally be able to, because the whole premise is that they are trapped in this place together,” Hughes told the Technique. “That feeling of being trapped, sometimes with people you don’t want to be trapped with in the case of the show, is something a lot of people can relate to nowadays.”

While Jo and Jules navigate a rocky relationship throughout their time in confinement, an outside figure is quietly calling the shots on what happens to Earth.

“I think [the students selecting this play] really liked the idea of the third character and the plot twist that character decides for the show from a theatrical standpoint, and that was one of the pieces that made it very interesting in terms of selecting it,” Foulger said.

Barbara (Abigail Russ, second-year PHYS) is not what people would expect from a character with God-like powers; she is goofy and enthusiastic, even as the world she controls comes to an end. 

What makes “boom” unique compared to any prior DramaTech production is the use of the video call application Zoom rather than a physical performance. Because actors and audiences are unable to gather in one space, DramaTech made the decision to move the planned summer show to an online platform. 

“When it came time to consider this show, we really looked at [if we could] do the show, but also [if we needed] to do the show, and we all felt like ‘yes’ to both of those,” Foulger said. “We can do it, but we also need to do it, because it’s a sense of community and it’s providing that same outlet for us in socialization and connection with other people that gives us  hope, gives us the feeling that we are going to get through this.”

As one might anticipate, Zoom does not always work at the same capacity as a live, in-person performance. Several problems arose, even beyond what the cast and crew predicted.

“The unexpected challenges came from how we tried to integrate tech into the process earlier than we normally would,” explained Gracelyn Nguyen, fourth-year NEUR. “When running the show, I have to be mindful of watching the live actor feeds, and not the delayed composited view of what the audience is seeing, calling cues even earlier than I’d be comfortable with, in case there’s a communication lag, and not being in the same space as my operators or actors, in case I need to help with something.”

Nguyen is the show’s stage manager and the president of DramaTech and has encountered several obstacles throughout the rehearsal process.

As audiences may already be aware of, Zoom lag can cause frustration for users, which may be amplified in the theatrical setting. This has caused a lack of synchronicity for some rehearsals, but the acting and technical team have adjusted to the online setting. 

But with many theatrical processes, online shenanigans tend to take place, and “boom” is no exception to that. Participants have laughed over their ability to change their names and backgrounds over Zoom and still managed to have a laugh despite being miles apart. 

Amidst a seemingly new world apocalypse in COVID-19, the “boom” team has managed to put together a show to provide themselves and their audiences with a little bit of comfort during the stressful days of social isolation. 

“It’s really impressive to me how our tech and everyone in the whole production [has been] resourceful and really committed to what they do,” Siebold admired. “It’s really cool to be a part of it and watch people come together — even though we have everything against us — to make theatre just because we love doing it.”

“boom” is being performed over Zoom from June 19-21 and again from June 25-27 at 8:00 p.m. Audiences can reserve tickets on DramaTech’s website for $10.