It's been a year since our first virtual production "went up," and after nearly a dozen shows, I believe I have discovered some pointers for actors who are going to continue working in this new medium.
1. Invest in quality cameras, microphones, lighting, and other accessories
All computers within the past few years have been equipped with webcams and microphones. But usually, not very good ones. In fact, your smartphone likely has a better one than your more expensive laptop.
So before you even schedule your virtual audition or record your demo, pick up a USB/external cam and mic. Many can be affordably acquired, at least until you decide you want to spend bigger bucks. For starting out, you can snag decent gear for anywhere from $30-$100 each (and some cameras include a mic in them!). In the big (clear) picture, this is a small price to pay for something that will make a huge difference.
Along with those must-haves, make your life easier by picking up a ring light or two; snag a tripod for additional cameras or mics (see #2 below), and no virtual actor is ready without a green screen.
2. Consider your camera(s) position(s)
When you perform on Zoom, you are going to have a lot less space to work with than on a theatre stage. Therefore, consider placing your camera where it can get more of your full-body (and the surrounding area) than just a head-and-shoulders shot.
Now, the show you might (want to be) cast in might be one where the director only wants to see the actors from the neck-up, which has its own, interesting problems. But the flexibility to work within different "spaces" can be an asset, and that can extend to more than one camera -- one for the close-ups, one for more full-body, wider shots.
3. Work on your face and body
In virtual theatre, no matter where you place the camera(s), the audience is going to see you a lot closer up than they probably would sitting in the house of a theatre. Therefore, you will need to exercise some different acting techniques, including using your face and hands a lot more.
You'd think that being closer to the audience, they would be able to see the more minute mannerisms an actor performs. But, in fact, the opposite is true. Most of us naturally keep our faces very still and don't use our upper body and hands a lot. And as lovely as you look, anyone's face gets boring to look at before long. So you'll need to work on those expressions and bring your hands into the frame more to keep the viewer interested on the screen. On a stage, an audience member can look at the scenery, or the furniture, or any number of other things, but with the frame locked solidly on your face, you need to work extra hard to keep them interested.
4. Speed up your internet
The worst thing that can happen during a virtual performance is for one actor's internet to cut out. The show may now be on hold for several minutes or more, until he/she is able to sign back online (if they're able to). Poor internet connectivity can also lead to video pixelation or delay, audio dropping out, and a whole slew of other problems that could grind a production to a halt.
Fortunately, there are a few easy solutions to this problem. Namely, upgrading your internet speed, easily accomplished by adding a few bucks to your monthly bill.
Additionally, you should always connect your computer (or whatever device you're using to perform with) directly to your internet router or modem. Some computers no longer provide a jack to connect an Ethernet cable, but this can be easily remedied by purchasing a USB ethernet adapter, often no more than $20 . Most of the adapters are part of hubs, or contain other ports for additional USB devices (like a camera or microphone as mentioned in #1!) . This "wired" connection will help keep your signal intact, more than a WiFi one. You may be able to do a speed test on your internet when you connect wirelessly and see it's a strong signal, and you may never have had connection issues before, but don't tempt the Internet Fates because you know what happens then.
And hopefully it goes without saying, but...I'll say it anyway: always restart your computer before a performance, and shut down any other programs running in the background to divert all the processing power to the show at hand.
5. Your home now doubles as a theatre
When you perform onstage, part of the blocking and staging process likely involves putting down Glo-Tape and spiking your space so you know where to move and even look. Performing virtually is no different.
You likely agree that, now that your living room or office is your performance space, it needs to be a clean, quiet area where outside noises and distractions won't interfere with your end of things. Further, be sure what the audience sees is fitting for the scene you're in, so make sure any posters or other items that don't belong are removed/covered up.
But more importantly, you should get into the habit of marking your space in order to aid you where you need to look or move, depending on the director's choice.
With a more limited stage to work with, and with Zoom and other streaming platforms offering split-screen features (which cut down on even more of the visible space to the audience), the virtual actor needs to be aware of even their most minute body shift or movement, because it might, unknowingly, move them out of frame (and sometimes give the disorienting effect that they are "behind" another actor sharing the screen with them, or even look like they're decapitated!).
By marking the dimensions of what the viewer can see of you and your performing area, as well as where your eye contact should be with a simple piece of tape or small paper, your performance will be a better virtual experience for everyone.
Feel free to contact us with any questions about equipment we'd recommend or other related information regarding this topic.