The latest theatre work to come out of the University of Manitoba is not in a theatre at all, but that's the point.

Dr. Katrina Dunn is an assistant professor in the University of Manitoba's (UM) Theatre program and the director of ZOOM LENS.

"What is remarkable about Debbie Paterson, the playwright, is that she has somehow found a way to have these really pithy and unique observations about the moment that we are in," the director says.

Truly putting famed UM alumni Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" to the test, the school is putting on a play about the video-meeting service Zoom over Zoom.

"It has something to say to everybody about the pandemic experience," Dunn says. "I think if you are looking to have a unique and interesting perspective on the pandemic that is both funny and poignant I think this would be a good piece for you."

The play comes with its own challenges, including how the actors will be positioning themselves on-screen. Traditionally called blocking, Dunn is working with the literal blocks on Zoom to do this.

zoom lens outdoorsSets for Zoom Lens are realistic, as they are the actor's actual spaces they are Zooming in from. (Supplied)

"We got tired of the Zoom screen very  quickly and I think, and if we are going to watch it for entertainment there needs to be something else in there."

Needing to be connected to a modem, the actor's sets are whatever is in the background. This means the set designer needed to intentionally figure out what was needed in the space and on some occasions, Dunn needed to purchase and ship items to the students.

Another challenge they have found is a common issue in most online meetings. While many in online meetings have said "you're on mute" the director has noticed Zoom tends to mute others and have one dominant voice, something that does not work well in theatre.

"While it is really challenging to rehearse a play on Zoom, at least we are not pretending that it is not Zoom. The whole play is written in Zoom meetings."

Something new to Dunn is chest-up costumes. She says most actors are only seen this way, leaning on hair and makeup to help share the character's personalities. 

This original delivery method is a first for playwright Debbie Patterson, but over the past year, the arts community has found ways to deliver entertainment.

In Manitoba, in-person performances could resume as soon as next weekend.