'A Zoom with a View': Student creates virtual theater festival to support and unify artists

Last summer, theaters and performance halls across the country were filled with people, music, dance and celebration. Today these same places sit empty, waiting for noise and life to occupy them again.

Indiana University performing arts students and faculty are forced to find other ways to express themselves and share their art. Rising IU Bloomington senior Alexander Kopnick's solution: creating an online theater festival, "A Zoom with a View," to support artists affected by COVID-19, keep the spirit of live theater alive and create unity among artists during an isolating time.

Alexander Kopnick.View print quality image
Alexander Kopnick. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kopnick

Kopnick, who is pursuing a bachelor's degree in directing and producing for theater and film through the Individualized Major Program in the College of Arts and Sciences and a certificate in arts administration from the Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, was feeling restless after social distancing guidelines kept him away from the theater, his main passion. The inward realization of his experience also encouraged him to consider what others must be feeling.

"I am very fortunate to live in a situation where I can devote myself and my time to a volunteer theater festival without having to worry about paying bills or where my next meal is coming from," Kopnick said. "Most professional artists and even some of the other collaborators working on this event cannot say the same thing."

After deciding to plan a virtual theater experience via Zoom, he began posting across social media platforms and theater-related subsections on Reddit to connect with artists and find participants.

"I was surprised at just how many responses I got," Kopnick said. "I went through a process of establishing guidelines for submissions, interviewing collaborators, creating a schedule and figuring out all of the other logistics for the event."

Kopnick and his collaborators were forced to think outside the box about how they could deliver a live theater experience in an unconventional way. His plan is for actors to perform seven of the 10 plays that were developed live on a Zoom call, which will be livestreamed simultaneously on YouTube.

"Many of the plays are quite literally set as Zoom calls, and I have a feeling that people will find watching these plays to be a surreal experience," he said. "It feels like you're a part of the call yourself."

The project has brought together 62 collaborators working on the plays, stretching from places like Los Angeles and New York to Cambridge, United Kingdom. Kopnick's childhood friends are working alongside his IU peers, people he's never met and even professionals who have inspired him, such as his professor and independent major sponsor Ansley Valentine, who is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

With the virtual festival, Kopnick aims to unify artists who may be feeling alone and to make art accessible and representative of everyone's stories.

"The plays in the festival are not trying to push a socio-political agenda," Kopnick said. "What they all do, though, is address some of the emotions and universal truths we are experiencing: isolation, disconnect in our relationships, anger, fear, love and hope."

IU-affiliated collaborators include students from the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance, the Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Kelley School of Business.

The proceeds received from ticket donations will be split between Artist Relief and the Black Art Futures Fund, to support artists affected by COVID-19 and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

"So many people are rightfully angry at their lives being devalued by others," Kopnick said. "As much as legislation needs to change, people's hearts do too. Through the money we are raising, we are supporting artists who do not have the privilege to create art during times of crisis. The nature of their situations makes their art all the more important and should be supported and promoted. Regardless of whether or not people support our festival, I hope that they will support our purpose."

"A Zoom with a View" will take place at 7:30 p.m. June 5 and at 10:30 p.m. June 6. After purchasing a ticket donation at whatever price they can afford, viewers will be provided with information to access to the two festival streams on YouTube.