Roland Tec created A Nagging Feeling Best Not Ignored specifically for performance on Zoom. The ticket page asks, "Where was he on January 6? And what are you prepared to do about it?" Before the show, audience members receive an email encouraging them to keep their cameras and microphones on.
While the audience waits for the show to begin, electronic music is piped into the Zoom lobby. Some people have their cameras and mics on already. They drink water, clean eyeglasses, and watch their screens with amusement and anticipation. No one knows what to expect, but they're all game for whatever is about to occur. Industrial sounds clunk and whir over the music every few minutes, and a voiceover welcomes the audience to "Tonight's inquiry." The voice thanks them for their participation in the "voluntary citizen panel" and refers to "our national healing" and "shared democratic ideals of peace and justice." Fans of science fiction are undoubtedly reminded of dystopian novels where so-called democratic ideals are, in fact, forced upon the population for their own good by the out-of-touch governing body, and usually not for anyone's good.
Then Tec appears in the Zoom square marked "Subject: Benj" and dispels any dystopian shadows. He uses eye drops, warmly welcomes the audience, and lets out a comedic stream of curses as he leans into the camera and retrieves a large bottle of Fiji water. Benj drinks and settles into his chair and the audience is compelled to mirror him.
The set is sparse. It looks like a small bedroom/office, with a mussed daybed, shelves containing office supplies, a roll of toilet paper, and the desk where Benj sits, speaking into the camera. When Benj refers to "what lies in the gap between what you show people and what you hide," the state of the room makes you think this guy can't be hiding much. And then you remember that it's a set and he's an actor, so that's what he wants you to think. Viewers toggle between two realities – at times feeling completely part of the conversation, and other times reminded that they're watching a performance.
Benj talks about the "new relationship with reality" we have collectively formed over the last two years. People nod, smile, and chuckle. There's a sense of community among the audience. Benj asks the audience to toggle to Gallery mode so they can see one another and requests that they look into someone else's eyes for a moment. He prompts them to think about their assumptions and what you can and cannot know from someone's appearance. He then has them toggle back to speaker view. There's a feeling of embarking on a journey together.
Benj is personable, smiling, motioning with his hands as he lets the audience in on a little secret: he didn't really want to be there. The intimacy of his tone and gestures portrays vulnerability. For the next 35 minutes, Benj talks around the question of whether he was in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. He plays on the sincerity he established earlier to convince the audience that he was just in D.C. "as an observer." When he later says he slept through the Amtrak train he'd booked to D.C., and that hadn't been there at all, can the audience still trust him?
Benj grows red-faced and intense and informs the audience that he's being heckled in the Chat by a troll. He mutes himself and has an angry, animated discussion with his tech person. Benj returns with his earnest gaze, leaning toward the audience and tells them the troll has been removed from the Zoom, a move that allows the audience to empathize with him.
Benj talks a bit more about his whereabouts on July 6, but what he's really come to do is ask the audience: How do you decide who to trust? The audience is invited to consider this question and all they have learned about him during their time together to make a judgment. However, the posed question leads to additional questions – about the nature of reality, subjective vs. objective truth, and whether a nation of disconnected people can reconnect using the tools currently available to them.
Working within the pandemic constraints of Zoom theatre over the last two years, Tec discovered that monologues are best suited for the platform. Indeed, A Nagging Feeling Best Not Ignored maximizes the medium, providing a unique theatrical experience that allows the audience to bond over feelings of isolation – a terrific gift in this time.
"A Nagging Feeling Best Not Ignored "
Written and Performed by Roland Tec
July 6-27, 2022
Wednesday nights at 8pm
STEPHANIE EAGAN is a professional writer based in NJ. A fan of every type of live performance imaginable, from taiko drumming to political performance art, she travels the tri-state area and beyond in search of music, art, theater, and excellent coffee.