Stellar Salon Recap: Streaming’s Power & Potential With Digital Theatre Pioneer Jared Mezzocchi

We invited Jared to discuss his thoughts and insights about digital theatre in our most recent Stellar Salon.

When he’s not winning an Obie Award, making history as the first theatrical projection designer to receive a Princess Grace Award, or showcasing his work at world-famous stages like Geffen Playhouse and The Kennedy Center, Jared Mezzocchi is quickly making his mark as one of the leading pioneers in the new medium of digital theatre.

Over the pandemic, Mezzocchi founded the Virtual Design Collective (VIDCO), which has aided in the development of over 50 new digital works. And in 2020, The New York Times spotlighted his multimedia innovations during the pandemic alongside the work of four other theatre artists, including Andrew Lloyd Webber and Paula Vogel.

We invited Jared to discuss his thoughts and insights about digital theatre in our most recent Stellar Salon. While we recommend checking out the entire conversation (see the video link below), we’ve pulled together a few key takeaways.

Why in-person theatre’s return is a good thing for digital theatre

Jared shared that he’s “relieved” that in-person theatre is back, stressing that he believes it’s about extending … and widening the net” of what’s available to audiences, rather than setting the in-person and digital theatre experience in competition with or opposition to one another. 

“The pandemic, in terms of an artistic fervor, exploded the options in a really exciting way,” Jared added. “Now we are back at a tabula rasa where the people who are looking at it are the people who are actually intrigued by it.”

Why embracing the “imperfection” of digital theatre is all about a shift in mindset

Should the imperfections — and perceived limitations — of an online theatrical work be taken into account and “forgiven” when critiquing digital theatre? It’s a question a theatre critic recently posed to Jared. As Stellar CEO Jim McCarthy quickly pointed out, “You could say the same thing about pretending that two chairs are a car on a Broadway stage, which happens every night. But that’s just one that more people are used to doing.”

Jared agreed, adding: “The problem is that we are being asked to view the work through a new lens, which is a lens that is used with Spielberg or with Hamilton on Disney+ which did not serve this cause. It served a great cause but it did not serve this cause. … We’ve taught the audience two lenses, and [digital theatre] confused those lenses, which excites me!”

The lexicon regarding digital theatre is evolving

What constitutes digital theater? That’s the deceptively simple question that writer and theatre critic Jonathan Mandell posed to Jared during this Stellar Salon. “I think the most important thing,” Jared posited, “is that we are establishing language that identifies that a livestream and an on-demand archive of a thing are building blocks of vocabulary. To me, the digital marketplace should embody all of those things but not call them the same thing.”

Filmed Live Musicals creator Luisa Lyons admitted that helping to define this new world of digital theatre is “one of her obsessions,” though she noted how complicated the terminology and classifications of livestreams, proshots, filmed theatre, and other distinct yet overlapping terms for digital theatre are these days. As Luisa pointed out, “[Even] the industry can’t agree on what it is, so how do we help the audience understand what they’re consuming?

Digital theatre has the power to eliminate the “cannot” audiences

A deep dive by playwright Allyson Dwyer into how a venue can retain its identity when its audience is attending its performances virtually prompted Jared to share his perspective on what he terms “can” and “cannot” audiences.

“When the pandemic hit, everyone was a ‘cannot.’ The pandemic has loosened up, and now some of the ‘cannots’ are now ‘can-go-to’ audiences, and we are kind of forgetting that actually even before the pandemic there were ‘cannots’ that were then welcomed into the invitation of coming to to see work during this time. … We have to confront the bigger issue of: How do we allow the ‘cannots’ to be ‘cans,’ even in this moment.”

Accessibility isn’t just about the audience — it impacts performers as well

Jared shared the story of his late friend and colleague Mikéah Jennings, a talented and prolific actor who performed in the online run of Jared’s show Section 230. Jennings had been told for years that his disabilities precluded him from performing in in-person theatre, and told Jared how much he “felt like himself again” during the run of Section 230.

After the online show ended, Jared was imagining how to bring the show to an in-person setting, and “completely failed” to think about how he was eliminating Jennings as an actor. He says Jennings taught him that “this world [of digital theatre] can be enough if you allow it that space,” both for the performer and for the audience.”

You can see Jared’s work here and follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredMezzocchi.

Amir Kenan

Staff Writer

Amir Kenan is a seasoned writer in the live event and entertainment space.