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If my mum laughs on Zoom does she really laugh?

Theatre’s power, I’ve decided today, is in congregation.

The thing we aren’t allowed to do.

To add to the twitterstorm of creatives trying to figure out how we capture the essence of theatre’s DNA in times of isolation, here are some random thoughts I’ve been having:

-Some good examples of congregation: Raves, religious ceremonies, protests, pilgrimages, family dinners, classrooms and youth groups, weddings, community centres, funerals, circus, orgies, live sport.

-congregation’s power is sometimes in ritual (e.g. Christmas, Pride) and sometimes in special occasion (e.g. Grace Jones at Southbank Centre, my parents wedding). Ritual creates culture and community (e.g. I go to Pride because I am LGBT or an ally to the community). Novelty creates occasion (e.g. GRACE JONES AT SBC!! My parents wedding!!).

-how many people need to gather to be a congregation? Is two people a congregation? Genuine question. How close to they need to be to one another for them to be congregating? Does congregation depend on physical proximity?

-Are we “congregating” when we meet on Zoom? I think maybe we’re not?! Let me try and explain to myself why. Was on a family Zoom. Left the room to wee. As I was about to enter the room again, I heard my mum laugh. My brain was convinced she was physically in the room. I opened the door and - obviously - no mum, just my open laptop. I felt cheated when my brain caught up and I realised she wasn’t actually there. And a real sense of loneliness. I feel the same whenever I come off a Zoom call - like I’ve had the illusion of congregation, but not the real deal. I didn't hear my mum laugh, I heard my mum's laughter.

-Unforgettable congregation: 2012 Paralympic and Olympic opening ceremonies, Pride and UK Black Pride, the epic house parties we threw in our early 20s, every day walking into the Graeae office for 5 years, the rehearsal room, the greasy spoon opposite Goldsmiths University after a John Ginman seminar.

-can congregation be accidental? Flash mobs. When someone falls off their bike on Whitechapel Road and everyone rushes to help. Yes?

-what’s the difference between a crowd and congregation? There are (were) crowds on Oxford Street but I wouldn’t call them a congregation. However, I would definitely call tourists in Covent Garden watching a street performer a congregation, and also probably a crowd. Is a congregation always active? I would say yes. Congregation occurs when something happens. There is an event at the centre of congregation. Always. And so - the difference between a congregation and an audience? No difference.

-If theatre makers are the experts of congregation, and Zoom doesn’t cut it, how do we congregate people in times of physical distancing? This is the million dollar question. But it’s also where we can be pioneering and playful and fail and discover and find beauty. I want to discover this. I want our industry to support artists to discover this. Because I bet there are more answers than one.

-If a tree falls in a wood when no one’s around to watch it, does it really fall? If my mum laughs on Zoom does she really laugh?

Love and peace to all.

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