Editor’s Note: While the author of this review is a personal friend of the lead performer, other Immersed staff attended the show and reviewed the copy to ensure a fair assessment of My Heart Goes Zoom.
We’re about halfway through the first of two sessions in which Siobhan O’Loughin has been regaling us about her ill-fated long-distance romance. We’ve have temporarily switched from monologue to roleplay: one of the audience members is pretending to be Vlad, a fellow student in her Documentary Film Theory class over Zoom, who is currently giving his thoughts on the classic Harlan County.
“I was surprised about how close he was to his subjects,” fake Vlad confesses. “It seemed impossible that they weren’t acting. In terms of the editing, it seems impossible that they’re just there in the hallway.” Siobhan makes a swoony face as fake Vlad continues, their tone growing more sensual. “I’m totally talking about cinema verité vs. direct cinema, can you tell the difference between those things, Siobhan? Do you care? I am hot.”
The focus shifts back to Siobhan in a 1950’s-style dress, lit in purple and dusted with glitter. Boyz II Men’s I’ll Make Love To You comes on as she acts out her feelings for Vlad via sexy slow dance, using a conveniently handy but utterly incongruous stuffed clown doll as a stand-in for the man of her dreams. It’s hilariously dorky and kind of adorable, which is on-brand for the performance as a whole.
My Heart Goes Zoom was a two-part, remote immersive theater experience delivered over Zoom by Siobhan O’Loughlin, Dennissa Young, and Brendan Leahy on July 17th and 18th, 2020. Part of their ongoing twice-weekly “Please Don’t Touch the Artist” series, My Heart Goes Zoom was a semi-fictionalized accounting of O’Loughlin’s experience taking a film theory class over Zoom and becoming utterly smitten with one of the other students. Blending monologue with both scripted and improvised audience interaction, the show’s intent was to bring participants along for the ride on O’Loughlin’s emotional roller-coaster of infatuation, anxiety, excitement, and sadly the all-too-familiar disappointment of being ghosted by a crush.
While technically a remount – My Heart Goes Zoom originally ran in May when O’Loughlin was actually taking the course and the ill-fated relationship was unfolding in real time – this remounted version added several elements and refinements that enhanced the experience. O’Loughlin’s bedroom was converted into a stage of sorts, complete with purple mood lighting, an HD camera that dramatically upped the video quality, and props stashed within arm’s reach. Tech was handled by Leahy, who had soundboards and musical tracks ready at a moment’s notice. Young, meanwhile, took on the role of moderator and chief audience wrangler, picking volunteers for the interactive portions and making sure they had their lines or prompts. The trio was a well-oiled machine, and transitions between monologue and interactive portions were mostly seamless.
But it was ultimately on O’Loughlin to carry the experience, and she delivered masterfully. It took a little bit for her to get fully warmed up on the first night, but from then on, she was truly impressive. O’Loughlin’s boundless energy and expressive physicality spoke to both the genuine passion she brought to the subject matter and her well-honed talents as a storyteller.
A key part of O’Loughlin’s appeal is how unafraid she is to be fully vulnerable in front of her audience. Her previous show, Broken Bone Bathtub, involved her being literally naked in a stranger’s bathtub, going into frank detail about life in Brooklyn and the surprising tasks she ended up needing help with after a bike accident left her with a broken arm. While clothed in My Heart Goes Zoom, O’Loughlin still bares it all from an emotional standpoint. As she recounts the tale of her ill-fated digital romance, audience members get to see every step of her emotional journey. The result is that a series of relatively banal events – developing a crush on a guy named Vlad, anxiously soliciting advice from friends, chatting with Vlad about film, asking him out, and getting ghosted – becomes two riveting hours of theater in O’Loughlin’s capable hands.
Were it just O’Loughlin monologuing the whole way through, My Heart Goes Zoom still might have worked; O’Loughlin is a human energizer bunny and plenty of fun to watch in her own right. However, her and Young also do a great deal to foster audience engagement throughout the piece. Each session opened with O’Loughlin excitedly greeting by name participants she recognized, which was a nice touch that made people feel welcome and seen. At various points during the sessions, O’Loughlin would pose questions to the audience and react to responses out of the Zoom chat in real time, and each night had multiple points where volunteers would be selected to read, or in some cases improvise, dialog between O’Loughlin and a character they were assigned. This helped break things up and introduce variety into the format, as well as keeping participants invested in the experience.
While most participants who took on the mantle of becoming a character were given a script to read from, there were notable instances on the second night in which they didn’t. In one such instance, an audience member was asked to pretend to be Young and console O’Loughlin and improvised dialogue worthy of a therapist’s office. In another, a man was asked to play Vlad and explain why he ghosted O’Loughlin, and off-the-cuff he provided a heartfelt apology and some much-needed closure that clearly left O’Loughlin, and much of the audience, genuinely touched. It was probably better than the real Vlad deserved.
After each part concluded, the cast stayed on for Q&A and socializing that ran considerably longer than the show itself; it’s clear O’Loughlin cares about the community she’s building. After the bulk of the audience signed off, the Q&A became more of an informal hangout reminiscent of actors catching up with friends outside the theater. While it won’t make sense for all remote experiences – and not everyone will have the leftover energy necessary to spend two or more extra hours with their audience after the metaphorical curtain falls – it was welcome here.
There isn’t a ton that bears tweaking should My Heart Goes Zoom get another remount. But for whatever comes next, consider tightening up the riffing/greeting at the start of the session. The first night ended later than it was scheduled to, and this seemed to temporarily put O’Loughlin off her game a little when the piece began in earnest. It’s also, frankly, considerate of the audience’s time to not delay the start too much past the scheduled opening curtain.
A lot of what makes theater, and particularly immersive theater, so appealing is the ability to foster human connection in an often distant and isolated digital age, particularly during COVID-related quarantine, when we’re all a little starved for genuine human contact. O’Loughlin, Young, and Leahy offered a refreshing change of pace. My Heart Goes Zoom was a genuinely emotional, engaging journey through a relatable story that gave audiences a deep look into the psyche of a very animated and skilled performance artist. It included the audience, made them part of the narrative, giving them an emotional buy-in, and allowing them to feel as O’Loughlin did. It was also an opportunity to see the heart and passion of someone who loves authentically, and is doing everything she can to build a strong community, in a time where connection means so much.
While My Heart Goes Zoom has ended, the “Please Don’t Touch the Artist” series of which it was part is ongoing. Shows are held twice a week via Zoom and usually begin at 7pm Pacific time. Note that some sessions are more informal workshop-style sessions that are open to everyone, but staged productions like My Heart Goes Zoom require a ticket to attend and have a maximum number of participants. All “Please Don’t Touch the Artist” shows are offered on a donation/pay-what-you-want basis. To learn more about upcoming “Please Don’t Touch the Artist” shows, check out the series’ scheduling website here. You will need to subscribe to their mailing list to receive the link for attending the workshop sessions. You can also learn more about O’Loughlin on her website here, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Click here for our reviews of other ongoing and concluded remote experiences.