Zoom has dominated our professional and personal lives during the pandemic. Even now, as companies continue to discuss — and occasionally act on — return-to-office plans, they’re still the go-to meeting baseline. (One hellish headline on that trend: “Workers are putting on pants to return to the office only to be on Zoom all day.”) You probably had a few meetings today on the video platform, as I did.
Zoom meetings become banal to me; I’ve gotten into the routine of making sure I have adequate lighting and adjusting my earbuds to connect with people I know or am meeting for the first time, virtually. But one Fringe Festival show changed my perception of them — and ended up being the most fascinating Zoom experience I’ve ever had.
I had no idea what to expect when I logged into the cameras-required “The Zoomousity” on a recent weekday and found three other attendees with bemused expressions on their face. Our two hosts, Dawn Falato and Karen Getz, were jovial and friendly in explaining our situation as six strangers who knew nothing of one another.
That suddenly changed when the two hosts’ Zoom windows went black. They had been possessed by Greek demigods Aoede and Terpsichore.
The four of us were instructed to draw something as an offering to the gods. I drew two stick figures because I’m a reporter and not a visual artist. Another participant drew what looked like a kitten’s face. The demigods asked us to name random objects, and dogs immediately came to mind. Someone said they should be soft and blue. I was in no position to argue with the idea of soft blue dogs.
Next, one of the demigods instructed us to stand up and create our own forms of movement. The vast majority of Zooms I participate in are sedentary, so it was refreshing to stretch out and dance. Our computer screens had become full with blue water as we all moved in wacky ways.
We next learned that we had to travel to an enchanting island via boat. On the boat, our Zoom window looked like a scene from the Spongebob Squarepants intro. The three other participants and I saw small portraits of ourselves lined up in a row in the middle of a wall. The demigods spoke to us as we tried to piece together our travel plans.
The island made a surreal experience even stranger because our four drawings had been superimposed onto the virtual space by the demigods. In the region marked by my drawing, I told the demigods dogs that could become cats and frogs. In another area called “Hello Kitty Kitty,” the kitten face drawn by another participant marked a space where time travel was possible.
Between each moment of our travels, we participants were sent to small breakout rooms where we discussed our feelings about the zany Zoom experience, what our lives have been like during the pandemic using Zoom, and what we thought of the demigods. In between all of the fun, we had candid discussions about life in general — the kind of discussions that you most likely don’t have during calls with colleagues or, in this reporter’s case, when doing interviews.
As our 90-minute session came to a close, the three other participants and I were asked by the demigods to make a song or poem summing up their experience on the island to share for a big finish. My partner and I sang an off-key jingle about time travel chock-full of weird references to the hit sci-fi cartoon “Rick & Morty,” which my partner loves. Sonically, it was a mess, but it reflected the silly fun we all had on Zoom.
For 90 minutes, we each forgot about life’s problems and had a ball doing improv. Could you incorporate some practices of “The Zoomousity” into your daily Zoom standup? I think yes, because we could all use some more playfulness during the work day, mindfulness as we share space with others, and reflection on how this all-virtual-everything state of work is affecting us. Though, I recommend leaving out mention of demigods in your next sales meeting.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-