On not being able to feel each other breathing on Zoom
Theatre student, 20 February 2021
—How was last year for you?
—Last year was my first year in school. Due to the pandemic, I stayed away from the theatre industry. I felt I was cut off; maybe because of myself, maybe because of the situation. Before last year I was actively participating in events, watching shows, and taking up performance opportunities. Then, due to the pandemic, performing arts and theatre suddenly stopped. We don't know when it will reopen. Now, even though the theatre door is open, there can be only 20 or 30 audience members. The performers perform to the space, or like what you said, perform for themselves. I felt trapped.

—I had planned to return to China to meet my family in June. I had not been back home for about two years, and now one more year has passed.

I felt more alone. I longed for human interactions, especially during the lockdown. I was very happy to go downstairs to smoke for 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes I would meet one of my neighbors, an uncle, and we would just make small talk with each other. It was precious for me to have a connection with the outside world. Other than that, I would stay at home like everybody else.
It was not a productive year. I hoped that things would go back to normal this year. But it looks like it will be the same: we won’t get to travel or remove our masks. The mask is like a piece of clothing now. That is very weird. When you remove the mask, you feel your bare skin and you feel it is unnatural. One time, I went to buy food from the hawker centre, and forgot to wear a mask. I felt my senses were heightened: it was so cooling, so breezy. Then when I was crossing the street, I realized I forgot my mask! I panicked because it was the start of the lockdown. I was afraid of getting caught and needing to pay the fine, so I ran back to my room as if I wasn't wearing any clothes!
—Was there any financial cost for you from this pandemic?
—I was teaching a children's drama class. Then due to the pandemic, we had to cut down physical classes and do them online. But it was not as interactive as it should be. Then my own school term started. Because of a scheduling issue we had to have some classes on weekends. Weekends were normally reserved for me to teach, so I had to stop teaching for the second half of last year. That was my only source of income. We couldn't find any performing opportunities. During the second half of last year, some of my classmates found part-time jobs as waiters. But it was not what we were passionate about. We couldn’t work as theatre practitioners.

We relied much on social media during the lockdown, just to have more support from other people. People seemed to be more compassionate, softer with each other because we knew we were in this together. We might be strangers, but it seemed like we were sharing the same darkness.
—Are you beginning to think about your experience doing Playback Theatre via Zoom?
—For me, Zoom Playback Theatre sessions were more for members to be together. We tried new forms, made a lot of shapes by using the frames, and used objects we could find at home. But we couldn't feel each other or hear each other’s breathing. Zoom sessions have other functions, as when it brings people from different countries together. We could meet former members who moved overseas; which was nice. But the stories shared were all about not having enough space, time being stretched, hopes and dreams, or fights with family members because people were unusually trapped with them in a small space every second.