I can now say that I’ve attended my first Zoom wedding. Sort of.
Hosted by Blackfriars Theatre on that now-popular video conferencing platform, “My Big Fat Coronavirus Wedding,” presented by Unleashed! Improv, is an hour-long interactive spoof on the trend of couples getting hitched at a virtual gathering in this time of self-isolation.
When I signed in to last Friday night’s performance it was my first experience on Zoom — my work meetings take place on other platforms and my family uses plain old phone calls to stay connected. I was a little nervous about learning the platform and potentially being visible to the other participants. Should I dress up? Was I a “wedding guest” or an audience member? In the end, I settled on a dark sweater and got comfy on the couch before tuning in.
We’re living in a moment in which people are finding creative ways to translate their normal activities, mundane and major, into virtual experiences. Some couples who had IRL wedding plans thwarted by the coronavirus lock-down have looked to virtual “venues” to host their special day and enable their guests to join in while sheltering in place.
Unleashed!’s players’ spoof of this phenomenon envisions a wedding with all the trappings of a traditional ceremony: the readings, the vows, the social hour, the toasts, the dancing, and the awkward behavior of some family and friends, plus plenty of “technical difficulties” written into the script.
The union of mysterious couple Pat and Chris has everything: nebby relations in various states of dressy and casual attire (and one just out of the shower); a game show host-esque wedding officiant and entrepreneur of this new business model; a sauced college roommate presenting a long-winded, self-centered toast; and a burned-out old flame attempting to rekindle the sparks.
To my relief, audience members were not thrust into the show, so I proceeded to comfortably watch the shenanigans while munching BBQ Pringles (microphone disabled). But true to improv style, we were periodically asked to provide suggestions through the chat function, or answer multiple choice options to determine a scenario’s outcome. For example, shortly after the audience was vaguely prompted to provide sentiments to include in a reading, one of the players incorporated the silliest of the answers into a rambling, ad-libbed reading based on Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.
As a comedy show, the performance’s lack of audience laughter and reactions was missed. But the production was effective when I decided to immerse myself into the premise of the show and pretend I was an attendee at a virtual wedding, watching all of the imperfections unfold. And there’s the built-in potential for the more devious among us to have a hand in the imperfections.
There are a lot of things I’ve wondered about these Zoom weddings. Like, how can the medium effectively stand in for the real thing, and, aside from technical difficulties, what are the potential ways it can go wrong? Unleashed! envisions and revels in every point on the scale of awkward to cringey: the couple’s Wi-Fi doesn’t function, elders have trouble with the tech, some folks treat the event very casually because of the medium, and members of the wedding party secretly pre-game at home.
The performance also anticipates the troubles real virtual weddings might have due to the fact that no one can pull a misbehaving attendee aside to correct embarrassing behavior.
The chaotic spectacle of an “event” rolled on, and as the hour mark drew close I found myself realizing it would be hard to keep a feeling of festivity rolling on into the evening over Zoom. Once you check off all of the components of a wedding, there’s not much left beyond dancing and winding-down socializing (humorously simulated here with Zoom’s “breakout rooms” function to which the audience is privy). But it’s just not the same as reveling together, in person. It’s hilarious if you’re like me and enjoy witnessing the occasional dumpster fire, but there’s a time limit on it being amusing.
One thing is for sure: the platform isn’t for bride- or groom-zillas. Structure-loving control freaks should just pick a post-pandemic date.
Unleashed! Improv’s “My Big Fat Coronavirus Wedding” is free to attend and has a second run this Friday, May 8, as part of a series of upcoming virtual performances presented by Blackfriars.
Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.