Zoom-o: Theatre Nova's "I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas" brings panto to your screens
Pantomime, or panto, is a form of audience participatory musical comedy theater developed in England that has become a beloved part of the Christmas and New Year season in many parts of the English-speaking world. There are songs, dances, and gags galore. Theatre NOVA proudly carries on this tradition right here in Ann Arbor.
This year, however, things had to change a bit. How does one engage the assistance of an audience when theaters across Michigan have had to close? Through the magic of modern technology of course. Theatre NOVA had already experimented with theater over Zoom in October with its Zoom Play Series. Now Nova has applied Zoom to its 2020 panto I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis.
The plot revolves around Santa and his team getting ready for their Christmas flight. But the reindeer have gone on strike, the elves haven’t made the toys, and the dreaded Rona Monster is on the loose in the North Pole. Can Christmas be saved?
After I clicked the provided link and logged into Zoom, I was met by an animated red curtain. Holiday music played while a five-minute countdown popped up in the lower right corner of my screen along with a dancing Santa along with four guidelines for maximum enjoyment of the show:
1. Candy, which would become important during the performance. I did not need to be told twice, so I grabbed a small bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Bells from my kitchen. (And at the first candy prompt, I was already four bells deep.)
2. Dancing. This is a musical after all. It is suggested the audience clear a spot before the show so we are ready for the catchy songs to come. Humorous parody music videos are interspersed between the live performances.
3. Live interaction. Yes, that’s right. Using Zoom’s “raise hand” feature, the audience is invited at different points throughout the show to interact with the performers. Zoom also has a text-based chat feature that audience members used to interact with each other throughout the performance as well.
4. And last, email. Adding to the interactive aspect, there is a point where audience members are asked to email a certain super-secret email address to help the show along.
I was impressed by these four different ways of encouraging the audience to engage with the performance. Many of us have been passive screen viewers this year. Theater NOVA’s use of technology to not only continue to reach their audience but invite us to become involved was clever and fun. I could hear and chat with my fellow audience members even though we couldn’t see each other. (In fact, the chat feature was a bonus because, ordinarily, I would never talk with my neighbors during a live show.)
Since I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas depends on surprises and gags, I don't want to say too much more. But rest assured, this is a family-friendly performance that is great for kids of all ages, including us kids at heart.
Crysta Coburn is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library, freelance writer, editor, and author.
Theatre Nova presents "I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas" on December 23, 24, 26, and 27. For tickets, visit theatrenova.org.