Upstaged By A Wandering Mouse: “Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light”

Presented by Central Square Theatre 
In partnership with City of Cambridge Citizens’ Committee on Civic Unity & YWCA Cambridge.
Written and performed by Dr. Billie Jean Young 

October 7, 2020, at 7PM
A virtual event over Zoom 

Central Square Theater
450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
CST on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

ZOOM/Cambridge, MA — Central Square Theatre’s presentation of Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light was a hot and sticky mess. This event didn’t have technical difficulties; it had technical catastrophes. An evening that should have been about civil rights warrior Hamer was rife with distractions instead. 

The audience was told at the beginning of the event that Dr. Young wouldn’t be able to perform for us that evening but that a recording of her performance would be played. While this was unfortunate, we could sympathize with Dr. Young. Her body is her instrument and instruments can be fickle. The Women’s Vote Centennial Panel would continue as scheduled. 

Technical issues started from the moment the video of This Little Light popped onto the screen. The video wasn’t expanded to the entire screen. We could see the screen of the Zoom host. Still, Dr. Young’s performance was enough to keep our attention focused on her… That was until the mouse arrow wandered across the video as if the person moving it was unaware that we could see it. 

The pointer clicked on the video progression bar and suddenly the video restarted from the beginning. The tech person realized that something was wrong and unsuccessfully attempted to reset the video from where we left it. Instead, the video progressed past our viewing point. We were in a new scene with no context. 

Once was bad enough but the video was restarted again when the tech person attempted to fix the sound quality. The sound hadn’t been great but we could at least hear Dr. Young’s performance. A button on the video was pushed and the video reverted to the opening credits. The tech person overcompensated again by dropping us to a new point in the performance that we hadn’t yet seen. 

Finally, we were allowed to watch the video to its conclusion without too much interference. Occasionally, the mouse would wander across the screen like its namesake in an abandoned theatre. The video was still minimized.

This poster tells us that this event should have been glorious.

I don’t know any of the specifics of October 7’s technical difficulties but I do know that all of this was avoidable. Zoom is no longer a new technology. It has existed in the public sphere for at least seven months. There are many humans capable of playing a video over Zoom. Someone made some very poor, very public, very preventable mistakes. Their repeat occurrences were perceived as flippant and disrespectful. 

An audience would rather a performance be imperfect than interrupted. If there must be interruptions, keep them brief and make them solitary exceptions. Accept a mistake and keep going. Theatre makers learn this at summer camp in their teens. It’s understandable that the video restarted once on accident. It’s irresponsible that it happened twice. A wandering mouse arrow is sloppy. 

 Central Square Theater has hosted other events online with a hitch. Why is it this presentation by and for Black women that things went disgracefully wrong? When we say Black Lives Matter, we also mean that Black people receive the same support and resources as majority-white events. That such hackneyed tech support was allowed to begin a festival for a broad audience is a damn dirty shame that reflects poorly on the presenters.

To their credit, panelists Eva Martin Blythe, E. Denise Simmons, Dr. Janet Jemmott Moses, Dr. Billie Jean Young, and moderator Kortney Adams were the epitome of poise and grace. They continued the evening with their discussion as if Dr. Young’s performance hadn’t been hijacked by a rogue Zoom host.  

More information about the Act Up & Vote! Festival is HERE.

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