The lights dim. The chatter hushes. The orchestra strikes its first note, and the curtain rises on what will be a magical night. For just a few hours, every single person in the room is connected. No matter where they go after this, they will always share those few hours with the actors, the crew, and their fellow audience members. It’s a gift to be part of and to witness, and it hasn’t happened in person for more than a year.

Who else just cried a little bit?

I’ve been struggling hardcore during this pandemic, like every other artist I know. I miss making theatre. I miss being on stage, or in the wings moving props, or in the booth calling a show. I miss being in the audience and watching other humans create something worth sharing. While it isn’t quite the same, I’ve found some comfort in being able to transition to digital stage work.

Working digitally, audiences are able to come to our shows and festivals from all over the world, connecting us to people like never before. Of course there’s also the advantages to wearing PJs to work. (If people don’t see it, it doesn’t count. Business on the top, cozy on the bottom). But there are so many different ways to do digital work that it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to begin – and that’s where I come in!

Over the past year, I’ve experimented with all kinds of digital tools for performance. Zoom, Skype, Instagram Live – the possibilities are endless for performance spaces. Not to mention the many ways you can organize scripts, stage plots, and designs for collaborating virtually. Below, I’ve listed just a few of the tools I’ve found most useful.

  • Google Drive

Having worked with both Google Drive and Microsoft Suite consistently over the past year, I have to say: for free digital collaboration, nothing beats the Drive suite for me. There are Google versions of PowerPoint, Word, and Excel that you can invite collaborators to – which means updates to scripts, cues, budgets, and more can be made in real time (instead of constantly emailing back and forth about it). Best of all, it’s free, which makes it super accessible to everyone, whether you’re a small group of people wanting to make art or a large company trying to move online.

  • Zoom

Okay, I know this one is a bit controversial, considering the very real Zoom fatigue and the fact that it’s a paid service, but hear me out. I’ve used both Zoom and Teams for work, school, and personal sessions, and to me, Zoom is worth the money. The video quality is better, screen share is easier to use, and depending on the type of account you pay for, you can add multiple people from a crew or company to the same Zoom account. I also love their video filters and the way you can interact with people using emojis!

It also is an easy way to be able to host a show, because Zoom offers webinar mode. You can have as many audience members as you like, who can interact with each other in the chat throughout the show, but not be able to turn on their videos and microphones. Plus, you can record the webinar – so there’s a digital archive of your work!

  • Streamyard

Finally, a personal favourite for hosting shows and events has been Streamyard. It’s a user-friendly platform, has a “green room” where actors can be when they aren’t needed on “stage”, and it connects to any streaming service you’d like (YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, etc) to stream to your audience. Best of all, the first 20 streaming hours on the platform are free – so you can have several nights of shows without paying a dime.

These are just a few of the tools that I’ve found helpful in terms of digital stage management, and barely scratch the surface of what’s out there!

What’s worked for you? I’d love to hear from you – what you’re working on and how you’re doing it – either in the comments section or over on Instagram at @marymannab!

Are you looking to learn more yourself? I’m offering an Introduction to Stage Management course, where we’ll cover this and so much more! Classes run every Friday from 4pm-5pm, on both a full course and a drop in basis. Can’t wait to see you there!

  • Mary-Margaret Annab | @marymannab (Instagram)