The Fun of Watching BATS Live on Zoom

One of the more pleasant discoveries I’ve made in recent weeks is that watching BATS on Zoom is fun.

No, I’m not talking about flying mammals. I’m talking about Bay Area TheaterSports – Improv (BATS Improv).

As you probably know, traditional live theatre shows around the world are very cancelled right now. Some theatre companies are planning shows for this summer and fall, but I predict most or all of these will also be cancelled since live performances with audience members travelling potentially far distances to sit next to each other in close proximity while performers project respiratory drops much more than 6 feet / 2 meters so that they can be heard in the back row is one of the last things I expect to open up again. Unless there is an amazing breakthrough in preventing/treating COVID-19, I think traditional theatre shows are too risky. Even without legal restrictions, I expect that there will be so many people who agree with this that there won’t be sufficiently large audiences.

A lot of theatre companies around the world are streaming recordings of old performances.

BATS Improv it taking it one step further. They are doing live performances – on Zoom.

Improv can be adapted to sudden changes (like not being able to perform in a traditional theatre) faster than scripted shows. I think I’ve seen a traditional BATS Improv show at some point, though I’m not sure when – I’ve definitely seen other live improv shows.

The first BATS Improv on Zoom show I saw was their “Office Drama” (which was recorded). I enjoyed it a lot. Since then, I’ve seen a few others.

I also tried watching one of the recorded shows, and it just wasn’t the same. Why does it make a difference whether it’s live on Zoom or it’s a recording after the performance? I think part of it is psychological – there is an excitement with a live show (albeit with the slight Zoom delay) that I don’t get from a recording, even if looks the same on the screen. It is also possible to interact with the live show – during the “Office Drama” I responded to a poll about whether I thought the company should be profit or non-profit, and whether they offered a product or a service. There is no interaction with recordings. And I just get a kick out of using Zoom in this particular oddball way.

I have also found that the Zoom live improv shows have some advantages over traditional improv shows beyond the current public health advantage. To go to a traditional improv show, I have to physically travel to the venue, and then travel back home, which takes time, transit fares, and is not particularly fun. Watching improv on Zoom skips that. And in traditional shows, audience member chatting amongst each other during the performance is considered very rude. By contrast, during the Zoom shows, there is a chat box where audience members can comment as much as they want about the show while it’s happening (and that’s another reason to favor watching the shows live over watching a recording later).

I have a sneaky suspicion that, even after it’s safe to re-open traditional theatres, I might still prefer watching improv on Zoom over watching improv in a traditional theatre.

And yet one more benefit of BATS Improv performing on Zoom is that they can reach audiences who aren’t physically in San Francisco. At the beginning of the show they typically ask where the audience members are, and there have been responses from multiple continents. I haven’t done it yet, but I could also try to branch out and see if there are improv groups in other parts of the world performing live on Zoom (though time zone could be a problem). Does anyone have recommendations?

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