“Okay Zoomer!” a performance highlighting environmental work in the community

“Okay Zoomer!” highlights environmental and social work at Allegheny College and in the Meadville community through performance, research and engagement. 

According to the Allegheny College website, “Okay Zoomer!” is “a live online performance designed especially for Allegheny College and the Meadville community” that will take place on Zoom at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11. 

The presentation features Peterson Toscano, a comedian, performance artist and professional podcaster, as well as the research and involvement from Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickell’s RELST-360 Religion and Ecology class. The performance will spotlight individuals and organizations at Allegheny and in Meadville who are tackling climate change and other environmental and social justice issues. 

Nickell explained that her class has always had a service component or community engagement interwoven into it, but because of the academic changes this semester due to COVID-19, she had to adjust to make the project possible online.

Toscano, who played a major part in the production of the performance, has been creating online content since 2003 from short films to podcasts and online presentations. 

“When (Toscano) sent something out in the spring (of 2020) that he was now doing online performances, I was like, that’s perfect,” Nickell said. “It just kind of fell into place. (The “Okay Zoomer!”) performance is sort of the same approach we’re taking with this class, which is, we are here in this huge moment of change, but it can be change for the good.”

At first, the students did not know how the community-engaged learning component would fit into the schedule of the class, but once the project was outlined and Toscano was brought in to help, they began their research, Nickell said. 

“I think that once they had an understanding of why they were doing (the project) and they were able to see how it fits in, they’ve really been on board,” Nickell said. “Each of the students did research into a person and an organization and some (students) were able to (find) a third (person or organization).” 

After the research component, the students were split into two groups: one that was responsible for helping with the production of the performance and one that was responsible for promoting and advertising the performance. 

Toscano said that he was impressed with the research that the students had done. 

“The students did tons of research, I mean, it’s amazing,” Toscano said. “They unearthed the incredible work some people have been doing for decades and others who have just started.” 

A challenge that the class addressed, and is inherent in any online performance or presentation, is how to make the event engaging and interactive, Toscano said.

“Zoom is boring as hell, right?” Peterson said. “Like one of the things I realized is you need to switch it up every five minutes, 10 minutes at the most, so that’s another element of a show. It’s like a super layer cake with all these delicious layers and fillings where there might be an introduction where there’s some standard comedy, then there’ll be a short film, and then there might be some interaction with the audience. It goes much quicker, but it also just keeps everything fresh.” 

Toscano explained that adapting to digital platforms while focusing on how the audience can get involved is essential to creating interesting and engaging online content. 

“One thing the students are going to help me a lot with is figuring out what kind of interactive moments we can have with the audience using the chat, surveys that you can do a poll with and other different things,” Toscano said. 

Having an engaging, informative online performance during a time where people are not able to come together in person is important, Toscano explained.

“We need special, bright moments (right now),” Toscano said. “We don’t have parties we can go to, we don’t have performances or lectures or (meetings) altogether in the same room, so it’s really important to kind of recapture some of that.”

Nickell stated that the “Okay Zoomer!” performance has the potential to give people hope for the future in the middle of a global pandemic and a momentous presidential election by displaying the positive work that people are doing in the community.

“The pandemic is surging and I think to really focus on the people who are doing good work, and working for a better future (gives) people some hope right now,” Nickell said. “I’m hoping that we can get the word out in the community, on campus and really have a lot of people tune in and be able to say, ‘wow, we’re going to get to the end of this.’” 

Visit the Allegheny College website to find out more about how to register for the event.