My Heart Goes Zoom - Interactive Play Review
I woke up at 4 am to watch a play. I never thought I would ever do that but for My Heart Goes Zoom I couldn't resist. This american interactive online play was intriguing me. A zoom play? I loved the concept but I needed to see for myself if it truly worked.
This two-part, one-hour-long-each, interactive romantic comedy "starring YOU" written and performed by Siobhan O'Loughlin is set during an online zoom class. It's the story of Siobhan as she falls in love with a fellow student in her online cinema class.
This play is part of the Please Don't Touch (The Artist) initiative. Since March 17th, 2020, performance artist Siobhan O’Loughlin has been writing and performing a serial event of experimental, interactive experiences over Zoom with producer Denissa Young and technical director Brendan Leahy. Through interactive plays followed by afterparties on Zoom they have created a community of people from all around the world that connect online. After the play I attended, they invited us to join a Slack where people seem to be chatting and sharing vegan recipes and cat videos all day long!
So was the play interesting from an interactive storytelling point of vue? Well, yes and no.
Siobhan O'Loughlin and her team have managed to create a very fun experience but I sometimes felt as the interactivity was not necessary.
I noted 5 different types of interactions that were possible during the play:
1) Answering Questions
From the very beginning, the audience is asked to interact by answering questions in the Zoom chat. A strong debate about the "perfect hot male name" happened this way (Vlad won). Other questions included "How to show your crush that you like him?" and "What do you think of this email I want to send to him?".
2) Chat and react
Through the zoom chat people could also react to Siobhan's various monologues. She would often pick up on what was written in a impressively quick way. For example, when she complained of being a boring person, people would compliment her personnality and looks to cheer her up and she would thank them.
Through a gesture similar to jazz hands people could show their contempt and approval (jazz hands up) or discomptent (jazz hands down) to her words or questions.
At one point people could guess in what course she met her crush through a poll. The answer was however predetermined so it did not change the story.
5) Play characters
Lastly people could play her crush and her teacher. This happened incredibly smoothly! She would ask who wanted to participate, then she would talk about her life as if no one had answered and suddenly the chosen participants would be playing characters with detailed text! I understood half way through that the participants were receiving private chats with the texts they were supposed to read. This was fun but also at time confusing because the cast was constantly changing.
These interactions were great to create engagment and excitement in the audience. Some audience members gave great performances because they were truly invested in the interactive process. I however realised that most interactions did not truly influence the story. I realised this play was quite similar to a pantomime. The main aim of the interactivity was to engage the viewers. Narratively it did not add much to the story. I think that is a real shame because I loved the idea of imitating an online class through the Zoom format and I could imagine great potential for this concept! They did not interrogate us as if we were students for example and I think that is a shame.
I also found the experience quickly repetitive: debating on the perfect name was fun at the beginning, but the pattern of answering a question and her reading out loud and comment each answer quickly became redondant. This made me wonder: does this play really need to be a two parts series?
I must however say the entire process was incredibly smooth. There were no technical issues and no awkward silence. Considering this is an experience requiring wifi and involving more than 50 participants all around the world that is truly impressive. At one point there were even special effects to express Siobhan's feelings of love, that was a fun touch that viewers did not expect to see.
Siobhan O’Loughlin's performance was also impressive. She constantly improvised, interacted with everyone and kept a high level of energy going. This is probably even harder to do through a screen than on a stage. She carried the entire play magnificently.
As an interactive storytelling researcher, I focus on the narrative side of this medium and look into the storytelling potential of interactive projects. This is how I examined this play and this is why I found some weaknesses. However the goals of the Please Don't Touch (The Artist) initiative is to create a sense of community during times of pandemic and to entertain people stuck in their homes. From the audience reactions and my own experience I can assure that they have succeded at creating a fun, engaging experience for the audience.
You can check out Siobhan O'Loughlin's work here: https://www.pleasedonttouchtheartist.com/