Theatre, Presence and Communitas in Social Isolation: Covid-19 and Zoe Seaton’s The Tempest and Operation Elsewhere Online

Tom Maguire



Responding to the Covid-19 crisis, Zoe Seaton, Artistic Director of Big Telly Theatre Company, directed the adaptation for an online experience of two productions that had been conceived originally for face-to-face stagings. The first, co-produced with Oxford’s Creation Theatre, was based on a 2019 multi-site production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that challenged many of the dominant conventions of theatrical spectatorship. The second, Operation Elsewhere, had been initially planned as part of a sequence of performances that used gaming approaches to reconfigure and imagine towns and villages in Northern Ireland. Seaton staged both productions via ZOOM to connect audiences and performers enduring various conditions of lockdown – primarily in the UK and Ireland, but also from further afield. Each of the productions was performed in real time online. Each provided a new experience of contingency and copresence to create a reciprocity in performance that had hitherto been the preserve of body-to-body theatrical encounters or online gaming. In a time of intense social isolation, I suggest too, that exercising this mode of spectatorship has the potential to create an experience of communitas that constitutes participation in an assembly that exceeded the limits of co-location in a physical social space.


ZOOM Theatre, liveness, communitas, Northern Irish theatre, assembly




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