Bruce Barton: Surrendering to Zoom: composing artistic research and creative practice in a pandemic

In the Winter of 2019 I began an artistic research exploration focused upon the relationship between human learning and machine learning. The combination of a highly precise, hybrid textual/movement-based score within a chance-based narrative framework requires all present—performers as well as audience members—to be hyper vigilant and attentive. To this end, the performances emphasize subtlety, silence, and small scale movement, and the audience was meant to sit in very close proximity to the performers. However, our plans, as so much else within all our lives, were up-ended in the Spring of 2020. A key question for many theatre artists at this moment relates to the availability of readily accessible technologies for at-distance creation and collaboration. Adopted by theatre practitioners for almost every aspect of creative processes, inexpensive videoconference options such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet have quickly demonstrated their considerable versatility—and their substantial shortcomings—as sites for collaborative exchange and composition. Explicit technical limitations—such as the programs’ inability to share sound from more than one participant at a time—represent only their most basic of challenges. Beyond these, substantial research has demonstrated the profound cognitive obstacles app-based videoconferencing presents to effective communication. For all of these reasons, videoconferencing would appear to be antithetical to the objectives of the previously described project, with its heightened emphasis on precisely scripted and choreographed interpersonal communication—unless, that is, the substantial complications of such exchange are intentionally embraced as both the form and the content of the performance. Adapting our originally conceived dramaturgy and environment will require us to focus upon, exploit, and surrender to videoconference limitations, rather than try to ignore, work around, or remedy those shortcomings.


Bruce Barton is a performance maker and scholar whose creative practice, practice-based research, and teaching focuses on physical dramaturgies in devised and intermedial performance. Bruce has published in a wide range of peer-reviewed and professional periodicals and is the author or editor/contributor of seven books. Bruce’s is also the Co-Artistic Director of Vertical City (, and the Director of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, University of Calgary.