This blog series discusses the various approaches taken by German theatre practitioners as a reaction to the ongoing pandemic. The arts collective Forced Entertainment decided with their production “End Meeting For All” to transform a Zoom call into a stage.
By Lena Kuhnt
Originally, Forced Entertainment was going to present their world premiere Under the Bright Light in Germany back in April 2020. Then COVID-19 hit, and those plans went out the window. Instead, and as an answer to the pandemic, the global lockdowns, and quarantines, they developed the piece End Meeting For All. In order to support the independent performing arts scene during those uncertain times, and due to their long-standing working relationship with Forced Entertainment, as well as curiosity and eagerness to react and reflect artistically to the crisis, three well-known German production houses HAU Hebbel am Ufer, PACT Zollverein, and Künstlerhaus Mousonturm commissioned Forced Entertainment with the work on End Meeting For All—a fragmentary online work in three short episodes, each taking the form of a Zoom meeting, recorded live in a single take, each episode is streamed as a recording.
One could argue that making a Zoom call into a performance piece is not the most innovative approach of the performing arts to find artistic and structural ways to deal with the current situation. Furthermore, expectations on what Forced Entertainment may come up with were high, since the performing arts collective are no newbies to artistic interventions in the digital space. However, what the approach may lack in innovation the implementation makes up for!
“I can’t hear you – shut up!”
Every episode of this threefold piece reflects and mirrors on every single annoyance each one of us already has encountered during a conference call: the distraction by external factors, like pets, ringing mobile phones, and the postman standing in front of your door; the technical issues, like frozen screens, audio problems, and camera settings; as well as dysfunctional conversations resulting from the lack of physical encounters in space, such as the one colleague who never stops talking, people speaking simultaneously, and the lack of awareness as to whom a sentence or question is addressed to since every participant has a different arrangement of split-screens in front of them.
“What will you do when this is all over?”
But besides being hilariously entertaining, the production presents a very human and identifiable reaction to isolation caused by lockdowns. Whether it is the repetitive question—What will you do when this is all over?— and aspirations are just as mundane as enjoying a cup of tea with their father, or the performers contemplating the effects of quarantine: “I understand the stillness in this house” – “It’s about slowing down” – “Something is going down.” The spectators themselves can relate to different aspects of the presented emotions and by that, Forced Entertainments End Meeting For All
becomes even more relevant by drawing the content directly from the current situation all of us are experiencing at the moment.
“Are you acting or are you just having a really weird day?”
To add, yet another, layer, Forced Entertainment actually manages to transform a Zoom meeting into a theatrical space using, as Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment says, the “Zoom grid as a kind of stage – a space we shared but in which we were nonetheless both connected and disconnected”
Knowing how Forced Entertainment works and how their performances come about, End Meeting For All
is exactly that: the balance between staying true to their working methods, remaining highly relevant for the independent performing arts scene in Europe, and finding new ways for performative interventions, letting the spectator be part of this process.